JEDDAH: NADIM AL-HAMID & IRFAN MOHAMMED
Published — Wednesday 18 December 2013
Last update 14 January 2014 3:23 am
The government has issued 211,000 Umrah visas for the new season so far, while about 12,000 pilgrims have already arrived in the Kingdom, Haj Minister Bandar Hajjar announced on Tuesday.
Hajjar said the ministry has also introduced a new electronic system to track pilgrims and ensure better services. “The system will help officials see how many pilgrims arrive each day so they can provide proper services,” he said.
The government expects 6 million foreign pilgrims this season from 70 countries, with an equal number of local pilgrims, said Abdullah Marghalani, the Haj Ministry’s Jeddah director general on Monday.
Marghalani said the new electronic system would provide services for pilgrims from their arrival to their departure. The system would have access to advanced travel information from the General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) and the Jeddah Port Authority, which would allow officials to facilitate transport and accommodation arrangements.
He said the transportation of pilgrims has been addressed through the system, which provides alerts to bus drivers on their mobile phones that pilgrims have arrived. There are also alerts sent to the phones of pilgrims when they arrive in the Kingdom. He said the ministry has instructed transport operators to keep all buses clean and equipped with air-conditioning.
Marghalani said the ministry was also monitoring Umrah companies to ensure they provide the packages that pilgrims have been promised. In addition, Umrah firms have to send their representatives to the accommodation of pilgrims six hours before they arrive.
He said that all field inspectors from the Haj ministry are equipped with tablet computers to ensure they can upload data of pilgrims at every stage. He said 5,000 employees from the ministry, 20 government agencies and private bodies are working to help pilgrims.
He said the Haj Ministry’s personnel have been asked to deal courteously with pilgrims on their arrival. The officials are also handing out booklets on important information and a bracelet for each pilgrim.
He said that pilgrims are only allowed to take Zamzam water produced by the government-approved facility in the Kingdom on their flights home. Other brands would not be allowed.