Dubai: Pakistan topped the list of countries whose citizens went to Saudi Arabia to perform Umrah pilgrimage since the season started on August 31, 2019.
According to official statistics by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the index showed that 495,270 Pakistanis performed Umrah this year, followed by 443,879 Indonesians and 262,887 Indians. Other countries on the list included Malaysia, Egypt, Algeria, Turkey, Bangladesh, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan.
The statistics also showed that a huge number of Pakistani people - 1,626,080- also performed Umrah from January to June 2019, making the total number of Pakistanis performing Umrah this year to 2,121350 as of the last third week of December. This shows an increase of 421,350 Pakistanis who went to perform Umrah this year. Some 1.7 Pakistanis went on the Umrah pilgrimage in 2018.
Pakistan’s Religious Affairs Ministry Spokesman Imran Siddiqui, talking to Arab News, said that the Saudi government had always won the hearts of the Pakistani pilgrims through exceptional hospitality, reported APP, Pakisan’s official news agency.
“This number of 495,270 was achieved in four months, showing the association and passionate love of our people with the two holy mosques,” he said.
“Pakistan was the number one country with more than 1.7 million people performing Umrah last year. The trend has continued this year as well, and more people are likely to visit the holy sites in Saudi Arabia to undertake this spiritual journey in the coming months, especially during Ramadan,’ he added.
The spokesperson said that one of the reasons behind the growing number of pilgrims from Pakistan was the strengthening of bilateral relations between the two countries, adding that Prime Minister Imran Khan and Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had brought the two states closer together.
Why surge in numbers
“The Saudi crown prince has given Pakistani pilgrims special facilities, such as the Makkah Route, and such changes have contributed to the increased number of pilgrims,” he said, noting that the Saudis had also digitised everything like visa for Umrah.
“This has reduced the cases of frauds committed by travel agents, especially when it comes to issues like accommodation.
Now everything is electronic and they have to show hotel accommodation for visa. The changes have been made under Vision 2030, making things easier for the pilgrims,” Siddiqui said.
The Vision 2030 reforms plan aims to attract more than 30 million Umrah pilgrims and provide them excellent services.
Haj quota increased for Pakistan
Meanwhile, Pakistan has annouced the increase of Haj quota for Pakistanis intending to perform Haj in 2020. According to reports, as many as 200,000 Pakistanis will perform Haj 2020 following a signing of an agreement between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia early this month.
The agreement was inked by Minister of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony Sahibzada Noor-ul-Haq Qadri and his Saudi counterpart, Dr Mohammad Saleh Bin Taher Beten in Makkah, said the Ministry’s spokesman, Imran Siddique, in a statement.
The Pakistani delegation, led by the minister, held negotiations with Saudi Minister of Haj and Umrah and demanded more facilities for Pakistani pilgrims, including increase of 20,000 to Haj quota, expansion of Road to Makkah project to other Pakistani cities, to ensure quality food and better transport facilities for Pakistani pilgrims.
The Saudi minister decided to set up a 10-member Pak-Saudi Joint Working Committee for resolving the complaints of pilgrims. The Committee would issue on the spot orders to resolve pilgrims’ complaints.