Pakistani Hajj pilgrims check in for their flight through a Makkah Route initiative at the Islamabad International Airport in Islamabad on June 4, 2023. Image Credit: Saudi Press Agency

Islamabad: More than 40,000 Pakistani pilgrims have safely arrived in Saudi Arabia, joining millions of Muslims worldwide on their spiritual journey to perform the annual Hajj pilgrimage.

Pakistan’s Ministry of Religious Affairs announced that a total of 40,781 Pakistani pilgrims have reached Saudi Arabia through 158 flights since the flight operations began on May 21.

Under the government scheme, there are currently 27,686 Pakistani pilgrims in Medinah who intend to perform Hajj, while 13,095 official Hajj pilgrims have been brought to Mecca after an eight-day stay in Medinah, the ministry said.

The religious affairs ministry has been actively monitoring the Hajj groups to ensure compliance with the required standards and regulations. A total of 12 Hajj group operators have undergone field assessments by the ministry’s monitoring team, said Muhammad Umar Butt, the spokesperson for the religious ministry. He added that a total of 522 Moavineen (caretakers/guides), including a medical mission, are currently in Saudi Arabia to provide assistance to the Pakistani pilgrims.

Pakistani pilgrims outside Medina airport. Image Credit: Ministry of Religious Affairs Pakistan

First Hajj flight from Quetta

In another significant development, Pakistan has initiated direct Hajj flights from the southwestern city of Quetta for the first time. The first flight took off on early June 4. Previously, pilgrims from Balochistan province had to travel to Karachi, the country’s commercial hub, for direct Hajj flights. The recent upgradation of the runway at Quetta airport, with a length of 12,000 feet, now allows wide-body aircraft like the Boeing 777 to land at Quetta airport, enabling direct flights to Saudi Arabia for the residents of Balochistan, the civil aviation official said.

Pakistan Hajj flight operations

This year, approximately 179,200 Pakistani pilgrims are expected to join Hajj. Of these, around 81,230 pilgrims will be performing Hajj under the government scheme, while the rest will be facilitated by private tour operators, according to authorities. The first batch of pilgrims arrived in the holy city of Medina on May 21. The last flight carrying Pakistani pilgrims will leave for Saudi Arabia on June 21.

Pilgrims leaving from Islamabad under the Makkah Route initiative are offered pre-clearance facilities at the Pakistan airport, eliminating the need for processing at Saudi airports. Initially introduced at Islamabad International Airport, the initiative will be expanded to include Karachi and Lahore airports.