Travellers claim they have been left in limbo after facing challenges to fulfil their religious duty by performing Hajj in Saudi Arabia.

Western pilgrims have described the difficulties of applying for Hajj packages on the new Nusuk booking platform.

From website glitches and price rises to issues booking Hajj packages and getting refunds, the process has been heavily criticised.

Bradford West MP Naz Shah raised several concerns at a meeting with the Saudi Ambassador to the UK, HRH Prince Khalid Bin Bandar Bin Sultan. 

Ms Shah said many of her constituents are facing administrative and payment-related issues, as well as a reduction in the current quota for British pilgrims.

The Saudi Ambassador to the UK welcomed the MP’s representations, with Ms Shah stating afterwards that HRH had recognised there were some challenges facing the online Hajj system.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus:

Ms Shah said the Prince gave his reassurance that the Ministry of Hajj was doing everything possible to resolve these problems.

HRH and his team have met with the UK authorities and others to look at solutions for British Muslims hoping to perform Hajj this year.  

Shabana Qassim, who lives in Shipley, was in the process of making a large payment before her package was cancelled, although the bank has not sent the money yet. 

Shabana, who is now chasing the return of the payment through her bank, has not heard from Nusuk throughout the process.

The 38-year-old said: “This year we were told there were going to be improvements. That hasn’t happened. It’s just been an absolute nightmare.

“Everybody assured us it was going to be a better process this year. It’s very stressful. People in the West have got a little bit more disposable income and they just can’t do it.

“Since it opened on May 5, I’ve probably spent about 40 odd hours, nearly 50 hours, just constantly refreshing [the website]. The first day I spent 10 hours. The pages wouldn’t load, the website crashed. It was signing people out. Then it’s trying to get in contact with the bank. I’ve got a full time job. It’s been absolutely stressful for so many people. 

“My sister paid £4,500 in 2016. This year I’m paying close to £12,000 so you can see the price difference.

“My money’s stuck somewhere now. I don’t know when I’m going to receive that back. I’m in the process now of do I go? Do I try and look for another package?

“All the mental and spiritual preparation to the financial preparation, there are people ready to go and we’ve had to inform work. I can’t give my work any details.”

The Telegraph & Argus has contacted the Nusuk Hajj platform as well as the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia.

This newspaper has also reached out to the Council of British Hajj for comment. 

It marks the second consecutive year that pilgrims have struggled to book their Hajj trip. 

Travel agents and distressed travellers in Bradford spoke about their ordeal when using the government-run online platform, Motawif, in 2022.

The latest Hajj platform, Nusuk, was launched alongside the Saudi Tourism Authority. 

It was hailed as an easy-to-use planning gateway for people travelling to Makkah and Madinah, and beyond. 

The Nusuk platform allows Hajj pilgrims to book a range of services offered at Visit Saudi, including visas, permits, hotels and flights.

Ms Shah said: “I believe it important for me to raise the concerns surrounding Hajj to the Saudi Ambassador, given the huge number of concerns that have been shared with me by constituents.

“HRH, the Ambassador welcomed the feedback and highlighted the huge amount of work taking place directly with the Ministry of Hajj to support British Pilgrims. I was assured further work will also be taking place.

“I was further reassured that the current UK Hajj quota will be looked at further and that lessons from this year will help in providing solutions for the future. I will continue to make representations with the Ambassador to ensure he is aware of the issues my constituents face and can be responded to.”