PANAJI - A group of Goans who went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem Tuesday accused the Israeli authorities of religious profiling even as the state government sought a full fledged probe into a visa racket run by travel agents based in Goa and Israel.
Edmund Antao, co-ordinator of Crusaders for Jesus with Mary - a Christian faith building group that led a batch of 97 pilgrims to Israel’s holy destinations last month, told reporters here that Israeli officials denied visas to 14 members of the entourage on account of religious profiling.
“The Israeli interior ministry clearly went by names. Even a name like Fatima was enough for them to deny the pilgrim a visa. They denied one of our fellow pilgrims a visa because he was named Albuquerque,” Antao said, adding that the Israeli authorities wrongly perceived the obviously Christian surname as ‘Al-buquerque’ that has Arabic overtones.
Eduardo Faleiro, commissioner for NRI affairs appointed by the Goa government, said he had asked Indian Ambassador to Israel Navtej Sarna to insist on an official reply from the Israeli authorities as to why the 14 pilgrims were denied visas.
“We have insisted that the interior ministry give us a cogent reply as to why the pilgrims were denied visas. They only intended to visit the holy land for pilgrimage,” said Faleiro, a former union minister of state for foreign affairs.
He added that Sarna would also be asked to order a probe into the nexus between travel agents in Goa and Israel, who were flouting visa norms and cheating pilgrims on their way to the holy land.
“Applications for visas have to be submitted to an Israeli mission based in India. Travel agents in India straightway contact their counterparts in Israel for visas, which is blatantly illegal and calls for a high level probe,” Faleiro said, adding that the 14 pilgrims were not even aware that they had been denied visas.
“They realised their visa had been rejected when they reached the borders of Israel at the end of a 17 day pilgrimage to Jordan and Egypt,” he added.