First batch of Hajj pilgrims arrive in Saudi Arabia

The first batch of Hajj 2023 pilgrims from Bangladesh arrive in Jeddah on Sunday. (AN photo by Nada Hameed)

Published on ARAB NEWS by NADA HAMEED, May 21, 2023

JEDDAH: The first batch of Hajj 2023 pilgrims from Bangladesh arrived in Jeddah on Sunday, through the dedicated Makkah Route initiative, at the seasonal Hajj terminal of King Abdulaziz International Airport.

The arrival of this year’s pilgrims from outside Saudi Arabia marks the beginning of the first full capacity Hajj season after two limited years due to COVID-19.

The Bangladeshi pilgrims were warmly welcomed with flowers, gifts, and greetings by border and immigration officials and employees of the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Health.

The pilgrims also received chants of “Hajj Mubarak” (we wish you a blessed Hajj) and “Hajj Mabroor” (we wish you a Hajj refrained from sin). They were seen off from the airport by Ayed Al-Gwinm, deputy minister for Hajj affairs at the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah.

Mohammad Javed Patwary, Bangladeshi ambassador and permanent representative to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, was also present. He wished the pilgrims a safe journey to the holy sites.

Al-Gwinm told Arab News: “The strategic integration between all the government entities, starting from preparing all the visas to the customs from pilgrim’s countries, went very well. Through integrated coordination with all parties, we are keen to offer an easy and simplified journey in which the pilgrims can reach the airports of the Kingdom and then move to their places of residence with ease … so that the pilgrims do not feel any disruption.”

Patwary told Arab News: “Alhamdulillah, everybody was very happy to receive the warm welcome by the Saudi authorities here.”

He added: “I must thank everyone — those who are involved in the Makkah Route initiative. Thank you very much to the Saudi government … because you are serving all Hajis (pilgrims).”

The first batch of pilgrims marked the arrival of four flights from Bangladesh to Jeddah, with a total of 419 pilgrims on each flight.

Meanwhile, a flight carrying pilgrims from Pakistan’s Islamabad International Airport, also via the Makkah Route initiative, arrived at Prince Mohammed bin Abdulaziz International Airport in Madinah.

Another flight carrying the first batch of Malaysian pilgrims arrived in Madinah.

They were received by the director of the Madinah region passport department, Maj. Gen. Talal Al-Dabbasi, and the undersecretary of the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah for visiting affairs in Madinah, Mohammed Al-Bijawi.

Shamsuldeen Mullah, a 63-year-old Bangladeshi pilgrim performing Hajj for the third time, said: “Thanks to the Saudi government for making this trip very easy.”

Mufeed Alrahman, another 63-year-old Bangladeshi pilgrim, traveling with his wife, and said: “Thank you so much for all the arrangements, it was very good. Compared to my previous Hajj which was around 28 years ago, everything is going smoothly and easily, I am happy with the changes and all the improvements that have been made.”

Pilgrims had their passports double-checked before they boarded busses to take them to their hotels in Makkah, where they will receive services and information in their native languages.

The Makkah Route initiative is part of Saudi Arabia’s Guests of God Service Program, which King Salman inaugurated in 2019, and which seeks to provide visitors to the holy sites with the finest possible services to help them perform their Hajj rituals easily and comfortably.

The initiative is being implemented in collaboration with Saudi Arabia’s Health Ministry, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the General Authority of Civil Aviation, the Zakat, Tax, and Customs Authority, the Saudi Authority for Data and Artificial Intelligence, the Guests of God Service Program, Saudi Passports, and the Saudi digital security firm Elm Co.

It includes issuing visas, ensuring pilgrims comply with health requirements, and codifying and sorting luggage at airports in pilgrims’ home countries.

Seven countries are in the initiative: Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Morocco, Bangladesh, Turkiye and Cote d’Ivoire.

There will be daily arrivals of several flights between Jeddah and Madinah airports until June 4.