Israeli ambassador to probe rejection of Goans’ visa requests

June 17th, 2009 - 1:59 pm ICT by IANS  

Panaji, June 17 (IANS) Israel’s Ambassador to India Mark Sofer has said that he is “nonplussed” by media reports about the rejection of visas to Goan pilgrims travelling to his country and has assured Goan authorities of a full fledged probe into the affair.
In a letter addressed to the state government’s department of non-resident Indian (NRI) affairs, Sofer has said that getting to the bottom of why 14 Goan Christian pilgrims were refused visas to Israel was of paramount importance.

“The examination of the events and the drawing of conclusions is of paramount importance in order to ensure that there is no repetition of events,” Sofer has said.

Goa NRI commissioner and former union minister of state for external affairs Eduardo Faleiro had alleged that 14 of 97 Goan Christian pilgrims had been denied visas because their names had distinct Arabic overtones and had accused Israel of religious profiling.

“Sadly, the travel agents involved had not informed us of any difficulty in the allocation of the visas and we learned it only after being apprised by yourself,” states Sofer’s letter, which was received by the Goa government Tuesday.

The ambassador said that he had avoided reacting to the media reports in order to avoid “exacerbation” of the issue.

The 14 pilgrims from a faith building group were in for a rude shock when they realized that their visas had been summarily rejected and were left stranded at the Isreali border after visiting Jordan and Egypt. This forced the state government to contact the Indian mission in Israel.

Some days ago, another Goan reported of harassment by the Israeli border authorities. S.S. Narvekar, a resident of Mapusa, claimed that Israeli soldiers made her press the large vermillion mark on her forehead three times, suspecting it was trigger for a bomb placed in her hair bun.

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