RIYADH: MD RASOOLDEEN | ARAB NEWS STAFF
Published — Thursday 5 September 2013
Last update 5 September 2013 5:31 am
The first group of Sri Lankan Haj pilgrims will arrive at the Haj Terminal in Jeddah on Sept. 13.
The country’s Consul General Adam Bawa Uthumalebbe told Arab News on Wednesday that 2,240 Sri Lankan pilgrims would perform Haj this year. “Last year we had 3,200 pilgrims but the quota was reduced this year by 20 percent because of the ongoing development work in the holy city of Makkah,” he said.
SriLankan airlines and Saudi Arabian Airlines are transporting the pilgrims this year, he said.
“Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa has given special instructions to the Sri Lankan missions in the Kingdom to offer the best facilities and services to the Lankan pilgrims,” Uthumalebbe said.
He said the consulate would deploy a team at the Haj Terminal to welcome the pilgrims. The officials would offer refreshments and attend to the needs of the pilgrims until they leave for the holy cities.
He said his mission had formed three teams in Makkah, Jeddah, Mina and Madinah to assist the pilgrims. In addition to the mission’s staff, volunteers have also been brought in to help. A medical team is accompanying the pilgrims.
The Saudi Foreign Ministry has sent two diplomats to the Saudi Embassy in Colombo to issue Haj visas. According to an official from the Saudi Embassy in Colombo, work on issuing visas is taking place smoothly.
This year, pilgrims will be coming through a network of 40 travel operators from Colombo.
Two months ago, senior minister in charge of Sri Lankan Haj operations, Abdul Hameed Mohamed Fowzie, signed the Haj agreement with Haj Minister Bandar Hajjar in Jeddah.
Fowzie had said that this year first-time pilgrims would be given preference. “I have also stipulated the minimum cost for each pilgrim, which should include airfare, accommodation and internal travel.” He warned that the government would punish travel operators who try to exploit pilgrims.
Around 7 percent of the country’s 20.2 million inhabitants are Muslim. This year, Fowzie and Deputy Minister A R.M. Cader will join the pilgrims during the latter part of the season.