•Says those affected submitted incorrect information to obtain visa
•Air Peace absolves self from incident
Michael Olugbode in Abuja and Chinedu Eze in Lagos
The government of Saudi Arabia has come out to explain why it turned back 177 passengers out of the 264 passengers ferried by Air Peace to Jeddah last Monday.
It was reported that Air Peace Flight No. P4-752 had airlifted 264 passengers from the Murtala Mohammed International Airport in Lagos and the Aminu Kano International Airport and had landed at the King Abdulaziz International Airport – Hajj Terminal Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on Monday, 13th November, 2023.
It was on arrival at the Hajj Terminal that the Saudi Immigration authorities informed the passengers that their visas had been cancelled. Consequently, 177 passengers were made to return in same flight back to Nigeria. Only 87 passengers were cleared by immigration and allowed entry into Jeddah.
However, in a statement of it verified X formerly Twitter, the Saudi Embassy in Nigeria, revealed that the passengers who were not allowed entry into the Arab country were given visas based on false claims.
The statement read: “The Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Abuja would like to make a clarification about the media reports and social media releases concerning the deportation of Nigerian citizens at the point of entry into the Kingdom.
“The passengers whom were denied entry, and subsequently deported to their initial destinations, didn’t fulfill the entry conditions and requirements in accordance with the applicable rules and regulations of the Kingdom, as they submitted incorrect information to obtain a category of visa that doesn’t apply to them, which was discovered upon their arrival.”
The statement added that: “The Royal Embassy would like to stress the importance of following the procedures and laws enacted by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for all visitors.
“Furthermore, all passengers should review all the documents to determine their conformity with the conditions prior departing from their countries to the Kingdom. This procedure was not limited to Nigerian citizens only, but rather to citizens of other countries.”
Earlier yesterday, Air Peace had absolved itself of any involvement in the incident.
In a statement signed by the Chief Operating Officer of the airline, Mrs. Oluwatoyin Olajide, it stated that it followed all protocols and procedures in processing its passengers for the flight and ensures that given regulations were not negated.
“This is to inform the public that the cancellation of the visas of 177 Nigerians out of the 264 passengers that flew with us to Jeddah on November 12, 2023, was not the Airline’s fault. It has become imperative to state the real fact in the face of conflicting commentaries in the public domain.
“It must be stressed that Air Peace, as a scheduled flight operator with vast international operations experience, understands and complies with established protocols governing international flight operations and is not culpable of any infraction in this respect.
“For the avoidance of doubts, Air Peace is a scheduled operator between Nigeria and Jeddah, Saudi Arabia and the said flight was indeed a scheduled flight and not a Chartered/UMAR/HAJJ or any special flight.
“This scheduled flight means we are allowed to airlift all categories of passengers with different types of Visas as long as their Visas are valid and approved by the Saudi Arabian Authorities. We are not limited to UMAR or HAJJ Visas alone on a scheduled flight,” the airline said.
It also explained that the visas of all passengers on the said flight to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia were checked and verified through the requisite procedures and were vetted to be valid before departure.
The airline added that the visas were verified using the visa confirmation platform provided by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Saudi Arabia which confirmed the validity of each passenger visa before passengers were allowed to check-in for the flight.
“All the Visas of the 264 passengers were duly verified, confirmed, and accepted as authentic for the trip through the Visa Portal provided by the Saudi Arabia Authorities, if not, no passengers would have been able to depart from Nigeria. This is just one of two steps required before a passenger is accepted on the flight to Saudi Arabia.
“The next step is the use of the Advanced Passenger Information System (APIS). We equally use this system to determine the admissibility or otherwise of each passenger on that flight.
“The APIS was live between Air Peace’s reservation system and the Saudi Arabia National Travel Security Center Carrier Portal to transmit passenger details prior to departure, to the Saudi Authorities in order to further determine the admissibility or otherwise of the passengers,” the airline said.
The airline added: “Furthermore, the passenger manifest containing the names of all passengers on board the flight was sent ahead to the Saudi Arabia National Travel Security Center Carrier Portal before the flight departure, yet no notice of visa cancellation was received against any of these passengers.
“We would like to reiterate that Air Peace strictly followed the profiling procedures stipulated by the Saudi Arabian Authorities and we are still shocked that upon arrival in Jeddah, the visas of our passengers were cancelled without any cogent explanation even till now. The immigration officers of Saudi Arabia were equally surprised that valid visas were cancelled the way it was done.
“While we empathise with the affected passengers for this development and assure them of our full compliance with the provisions guiding international travels, we wish to state that up till this moment, the Saudi Arabian authorities have not provided any explanations for the sudden and unexpected cancellation of the visas. Air Peace has continued to cooperate with the Authorities to unravel the issues surrounding the Visa cancelation,” the airline also disclosed.