Umrah visa cut to reduce congestion
Saudi Arabia announced Saturday its decision to reduce the number of foreign pilgrims arriving for Umrah during the peak Ramadan season to ensure their number would not exceed 500,000 a day in Makkah and Madinah.
Haj Minister Bandar Hajjar also announced that the issuance of Umrah visas would be stopped by mid-Ramadan. Both measures are aimed at reducing congestion at the Grand Mosque in Makkah where expansion work is in progress.
The early announcement would enable Umrah service providers in Saudi Arabia and foreign countries to plan their programs accordingly.
During the last Umrah season, operators and hotels had suffered big losses because of late information about the government decision to cut pilgrims’ number.
Speaking to reporters, Hajjar said the percentage of Umrah pilgrims who overstay their visas is on the decrease as a result of efforts made by authorities. Only 0.1 percent of pilgrims failed to leave the Kingdom during the last season, said Hajjar.
He launched an integrated bus transport system for Umrah pilgrims at his office in Jeddah on Saturday. An integrated electronic system, which has been implemented by the Haj Ministry, was instrumental in tracking pilgrims, he pointed out.
The minister also said that a penalty system would be drafted for airlines who fail to ensure that pilgrims scheduled for departure on their flights are flown out.
“We are coordinating with the General Authority of Civil Aviation to headcount departing pilgrims at the airport ahead of schedule,” he said. Pilgrim data will be relayed to GACA as departing pilgrims begin their journey back home.
Hajjar said a link is being developed between the ministry and Umrah companies for more effective tracking of pilgrims.
He expressed surprise that there have been few Umrah applications from abroad in the two weeks since the Umrah season began. There are 48 Umrah service companies in the Kingdom and 2,000 Umrah tour operators abroad.
[Arabnews] Sunday 8 December 2013