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Yemenis will be unable to perform umrah or obtain work visas in Saudi Arabia this year because the Saudi embassy and its two consulates in Sanaa and Aden were closed following al-Qaeda's kidnapping of the kingdom's deputy consul in Aden in late March.
Mohammed al-Zaidi, 31, who resides in Hodeidah province, is one of many Yemenis affected by the Saudi embassy's closure. After he scraped up enough money to afford the high cost of the Saudi work visa application, the embassy closed its doors and suspended all applications.
"I cannot do anything. I quit my job to go to Saudi Arabia for work," he said. "I sold my wife's gold jewellery, and I borrowed money to get the visa and now I have lost everything. How will I face my wife and my family? It is very difficult."
Abdul Karim al-Saafani, vice president of the hajj and umrah department for the Yemen Tourism Union, told Al-Shorfa the tourism sector suffered heavy losses because of al-Qaeda's actions.
Eighty thousand Yemeni pilgrims will be unable to perform umrah this year because of al-Qaeda's kidnapping of Abdullah al-Khalidi, the Saudi deputy consul in Aden, he said. An estimated 55,000 Yemeni pilgrims performed umrah in Saudi Arabia last year, according to al-Saafani.
"Al-Qaeda has caused the tourism sector to suffer huge losses and increased poverty and unemployment, both among those working for the hajj and umrah agencies and individuals working in tourism in general," al-Saafani said. "The damage even extends to individuals who received work visas and cannot proceed because the Saudi consulates are still closed."
He called on King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia to reconsider his decision to shut down the kingdom's embassy in Yemen so individuals planning to perform umrah can do so and applicants who already received work visas can complete the process.
In a statement released this month, the Yemen Tourism Union said the closings severely damaged the interests of Yemeni citizens, including workers, merchants, agricultural and industrial vendors, and Yemeni nationals living in Saudi Arabia. The damage extends to tourism companies, patients and pilgrims, who have been unable to obtain visas for months, it said.
The union condemned all criminal and terrorist acts and called on Yemen's defence and interior ministries to increase their efforts to secure the deputy consul's release.
"There are 1,640 work visa applications for Yemenis in Saudi Arabia which were being processed but are now halted," said Yasser al-Idrissi, who is responsible for work visas at the union.
The Saudi Labour Ministry issued visas for 20,000 people after the embassy closed, but the applicants have not been able to collect them, according to al-Idrissi. The visa is valid for two years, and he said he hopes Saudi Arabia will soon announce the reopening of its consulates in Yemen.
"The Yemeni people are not responsible for the kidnapping of the Saudi deputy consul," he said.
Sheikh Hassan Abdullah al-Sheikh, Yemen's deputy minister of endowments and guidance, told Al-Shorfa the country's umrah season this year depends on the deputy consul's release.
"Because of this incident, al-Qaeda denied Yemenis the opportunity to perform umrah," he said. "The Saudi authorities told us they will not reopen their consulates until al-Khalidi is returned by al-Qaeda unharmed."