Saudi Directorate for Passports Lt Gen Sulaiman Al Yahya speaking at a launch ceremony of the “Mecca Road” in Karachi. Image Credit: SPA

Cairo: A Saudi scheme offering a package of facilities for pilgrims of certain countries has been launched at a major airport in Pakistan in the run-up to next month’s annual Hajj pilgrimage.

The Jinnah International Airport in Karachi has become Pakistan’s second venue for the “Mecca Road” Initiative to process travel procedures for pilgrims heading to Saudi Arabia to perform Hajj.

Get exclusive content with Gulf News WhatsApp channel

An artificial intelligence-enhanced mobile counter has been introduced at the airport to finalise the beneficiaries’ departure procedures with ease and comfort, Lt. Gen. Sulaiman Al Yahya, the head of a Saudi committee overseeing the initiative, said in Karachi, according to the Saudi news agency SPA.

The official, who is also the chief of the Saudi Directorate of Passports, added that the Saudi Interior Ministry pursues the implementation of the initiative at designated terminals at 11 airports in seven countries with the aim of providing high-quality services for pilgrims.

Nearly 65,000 Pakistanis, planning to attend the upcoming Hajj in and around Mecca, stand to benefit from the scheme compared to 26,000 last year.

They include more than 29,000 pilgrims at the Islamabad airport and 35,000 others at the Jinnah airport after Saudi authorities agreed to expand the application of the initiative to the latter facility.

In 2018, the Saudi Interior Ministry relaunched the “Mecca Road, “which kicked off on a trial basis in 2017.

The facilities are offered to pilgrims from Malaysia, Indonesia, Pakistan, Morocco, Bangladesh, Turkey and Cote d’Ivoire. The facilities include the issuance of electronic visas at home, finalising passport procedures, tagging and sorting out luggage at the departure airports.

On arrival in Saudi Arabia, those pilgrims head directly to their residences in the holy cities of Mecca and Medina while their luggage are delivered right to their residences.

Hajj is one of Islam’s five obligatory duties. Muslims, who can physically and financially afford Hajj, have to perform it at least once in a lifetime.