Bangladesh pilgrims Hajj Saudi Jeddah
Bangladeshi pilgrims were part of the “Mecca Road Initiative". Image Credit: SPA

Cairo: In its sixth year, the “Mecca Road Initiative” that offers facilities to pilgrims of seven countries benefitted 322,901 foreign Muslims during the current Islamic Hajj pilgrimage season.

They benefited from the scheme implemented at designated terminals at 11 airports in Morocco, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Turkey and Cote d’Ivoire.

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The facilities were provided over 35 days for the pilgrims in their home countries before boarding a total of 922 flights that landed at the King Abdul Aziz in the Saudi port city of Jeddah and the Prince Mohammed bin Abdulaziz airport in the holy city of Medina, the Saudi news agency SPA reported.

The initiative significantly cut the time of travel procedures from 50 seconds per pilgrim last year to 40 seconds this season. Artificial intelligence-enhanced mobile counters were used for shortening the pilgrims’ entry procedures.

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In 2018, the Saudi Interior Ministry relaunched the the initiative that kicked off on a trial basis in 2017.

The initiative aims at offering seamless services to pilgrims of those countries on their way to Saudi Arabia. The facilities include the issuance of electronic visas at home, finalising passport procedures as well as tagging and sorting out luggage at the departure airports.

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

The Saudi Interior Ministry annually implements the initiative in cooperation with the kingdom’s ministries of foreign affairs, health, Hajj and Media as well as the Saudi General Authority for Civil Aviation, the Zakat, Tax and Customs, the Saudi Data and Artificial Intelligence Authority and the government-run Guests of God Service Programme.