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Nigerian women denied their pilgrimage to Mecca

Hundreds of Nigerian women, among more than a thousand denied entry to Saudi Arabia, flew back from Jeddah late Thursday after Nigeria suspended pilgrimage flights to the kingdom.

The angry would-be pilgrims, who were turned back because they were travelling without male chaperones, denounced their treatment at the hands of the Saudi authorities, with one traveller saying they had been treated criminals.

A total of 511 women arrived at the Kano international airport on a flight from Jeddah, some of them in tears.

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Some of them said they had been kept at Jeddah airport as long as five days.

"Some of us were kept in two halls for five days in humiliating conditions with little food, water and other basic needs and inadequate toilet facilities," said one of the women, Zainb Mohammed.

"Many of us have cold and fever. We did not have blankets and it was cold, especially at night. It is obvious that we will miss the hajj," she said, referring to the Muslim's hajj pilgrimage to Mecca.

Maryam Abdullahi said officials had humiliated them.

"I have never been so sad in my life like in the past three days," she said.

"We were held like criminals in debasing conditions. We deserve human treatment and as women and mothers, we deserve to be treated with honour but the Saudis have shown that they have no heart."

Earlier Thursday, 102 Nigerian women returned to the country having been denied entry into Saudi Arabia because they were not accompanied by men.

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A statement earlier Thursday by the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria described the situation as an "unprecedented and worrisome development."

"After consultation with all stakeholders, [the commission] has been compelled to temporarily suspend all Hajj flights for the next 48 hours," it added.

The suspension of all flights would enable the commission to "appraise the situation critically," it added.

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan on Wednesday had set up a five-member team to negotiate with the Saudi authorities, an official statement said.

Roughly half of Nigeria's 160 million people are Muslim.

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