Cairo: Saudi Arabia and several countries had signed agreements on upgrading services provided for their pilgrims arriving in the kingdom for the Islamic rites during the Hajj, according to media reports.
The pacts were signed by the kingdom’s Deputy Minister of Hajj and Umrah Abdul Fattah Mashat with delegations from these countries on the sides of a conference and exhibition, known as Hajj Expo, which wrapped up last week in the Saudi port city of Jeddah. The agreements were part of early preparations for this year’s annual pilgrimage season due in late June.
The pacts cover quotas for each country, entry points, as well as means of arrival and departure for their pilgrims, Alriyadh newspaper reported.
List of countries
During the Hajj Expo, Mashat had held talks with delegations from the UAE, Egypt, Senegal, Ghana, Chad, Tajikistan, India, Thailand, South Africa, Afghanistan, Kirghizstan, Benin, Sri Lanka and Tanzania.
More on the annual pilgrimage
Saudi Arabia this month said there will be no limits on the numbers of pilgrims from around the world for the upcoming Hajj season, reversing earlier restrictions prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic in the past two years.
However, the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah confirmed that Muslims wishing to perform this year’s Hajj are required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, Saudi news portal Sabq reported.
The ministry also said that vaccinations against meningitis and seasonal flu are also obligatory for every pilgrim. who must have no acute chronic or infectious diseases.
In the past two years, Saudi Arabia downsized the numbers of Muslims allowed to perform Hajj to prevent spread of COVID-19.
Around 2.5 million Muslims used to attend Hajj annually in the pre-pandemic times. Hajj is one of Islam’s five pillars.
Saudi Interior Ministry last year relaunched the “Makkah Route Initiative” that gives pilgrims from five countries access to facilities including finalising Hajj-related procedures in their home countries.
The initiative, which kicked off on a trial basis in 2017, covers pilgrims from Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Morocco and Bangladesh.
Facilities offered to pilgrims coming from the five countries include issuance of electronic visas at home, finalising passport procedures as well as tagging and sorting out luggage at the departure airports.
Accordingly, on arrival in Saudi Arabia, those pilgrims head directly to their residences in the holy cities of Makkah and Medina while their luggage are delivered right to their stay places.
Muslims, who can physically and financially afford Hajj, have to perform it at least once in a lifetime.