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An Airbus A330 of Pakistan International Airlines. Photo for illustrative purposes only. Image Credit: AP

Islamabad: The Haj 2019 season has started in Pakistan with the first flight ready to depart on Thursday from Islamabad International Airport.

Almost 200,000 Pakistani pilgrims will perform Haj this year for whom the government has arranged excellent transportation, food and accommodation, said Federal Minister for Religious Affairs Pir Noor-ul-Haq Qadri. At least 123,316 pilgrims would perform Haj under the government scheme.

Prime Minister Imran Khan is expected to inaugurate the first flight to see the pilgrims off to the pilgrimage.

National carrier Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) will operate 294 flights in the first phase to facilitate nearly 78,258 pilgrims to Saudi Arabia. The PIA flights will begin from Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar, Sukkur, Multan and Quetta airports for the first time. The phase of departure of pilgrims begins on July 4 and will conclude on August 5. Pilgrims will be returning from August 17 onwards and the entire flight operations will conclude on September 14, according to officials. Pilgrims will be provided with special meals, five litres of Aab-e-Zamzam bottles and free baggage allowance of up to 35kg, according to PIA officials.

‘Road to Makkah’ project launched to facilitate Pakistani pilgrims

For the first time, Saudi Arabia has launched ‘Road to Makkah’ project to offer pilgrims from Pakistan pre-clearance immigration facilities at their own airports. Everything, from stamping of visas to customs screenings, would be completed before boarding the flight to help travellers save time upon landing in Saudi Arabia.

This week, a 51-member delegation from Saudi Arabia arrived in Islamabad to review the arrangements. The facility is expected to benefit about 20,000 people in the first phase at Islamabad airport. The programme will be extended to Karachi and Lahore next year. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman announced the project upon special request of Prime Minister Imran Khan to save Pakistani pilgrims immigration hassles at Saudi airports.

For the first time, Saudi Arabia has extended “e-visas and pre-departure immigration facilities to our pilgrims” the religious affairs minister claimed, terming it “a revolutionary change in making Haj easy for our people”. The government has also hired modern buses in the twin holy cities for smooth transit of the pilgrims, he added.

Pakistan government has decided to distribute the money saved from accommodation, transportation and food contracts in Makkah and Madinah to the pilgrims. “We will return between Rs25,000 [Dh588] and Rs58,000 to each pilgrim based on their accommodation in Saudi Arabia,” the minister said while addressing a press conference in Islamabad. “We are trying our utmost to provide best facilities to our pilgrims for which the Saudi government has also extended its full cooperation,” he added.

Hajj 2019 Pakistan key facts:

  • Total pilgrims: 200,000
  • Pilgrims under government scheme: 123,316
  • Total PIA flights: 294
  • Flights to continue from July 4 to September 14