The ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) has organized a pilgrimage to Mecca for disadvantaged Roma citizens in the government's latest bid to reach out to a community, which has long been neglected and faced discrimination.
Some 33 Roma citizens from the western cities of İzmir and Manisa flew to Saudi Arabia from Ankara early on Thursday.
AK Party Deputy Chairman Selçuk Özdağ, among the party officials seeing off the pilgrims, said they sponsored the trip after two Roma citizens applied to the party, asking for financing for their Umrah pilgrimage, which is a pilgrimage to Mecca outside of the Hajj month. He said several nongovernmental organizations contributed to the campaign, more Roma citizens might be sponsored in the future and another group of pilgrims from other cities would make the pilgrimage within two months. He said that upon their return in 10 days, the pilgrims would meet President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the former leader of the ruling AK Party. Özdağ said: "This is a project to raise awareness of the state of Roma people in Turkey. We call on charities and philanthropists to organize similar events."
Umut Dum is among the Roma pilgrims. He said eight Roma families from Manisa would travel to Mecca and Medina for the pilgrimage. "We are very happy because we will visit the sacred Kaaba, and the home of our Prophet Muhammad."
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