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First group of Lankan pilgims arrives

WARM WELCOME: Mohammed Azmi Thassim, Faizer Mackeen and senior diplomats from Riyadh and Jeddah receive the first group of Sri Lankan pilgrims in Jeddah on Sunday. (AN photo)

RIYADH: The first group of 62 of the 2,240 Sri Lankan Haj pilgrims arrived on a Saudi Arabian Airlines plane in Jeddah on Sunday.
The island’s national carrier, SriLankan Airlines, and other carriers will bring more pilgrim in the coming days.
Sri Lankan Ambassador Mohammed Azmi Thassim, Consul General Faizer Mackeen and senior diplomats welcomed the pilgrims.
“This year, we had a limited quota because of the ongoing development works in Makkah,” Thassim, who met Haj and Umrah Minister Mohammed Salih Bentin on Sunday, told Arab News from Jeddah.
Ferrying of the Colombo pilgrims to and from Jeddah will be shared by the SriLankan Airlines, the Saudi Arabian Airlines and other airlines.
Consul General Mackeen said: “Today, we received the Ummul Qura Group, led by Sheikh Hussein Deen.”
He said the consulate has deployed a team at the Haj terminal of the Jeddah airport to welcome Sri Lankan pilgrims. The officials offer refreshments to the pilgrims on arrival and attend to their needs until they leave for the holy cities.
Four teams have been formed in Makkah, Jeddah, Minah and Madinah to assist the pilgrims. In addition to the mission’s staff, the diplomat said that he had solicited the cooperation of volunteers, who would help the pilgrims in Makkah, Madinah and at the Haj terminal. “A medical team will also arrive with the pilgrims to look after their health needs.”
Speaking from Colombo, Mohamed Hashim Abdul Haleem, Muslim religious affairs and posts minister, said the Sri Lankan pilgrims will be provided with the best of services both in Makkah and Madinah during their pilgrimage. “With the help of the Saudi government, we have also introduced a new software to our system to streamline all our Haj activities,” he said
He said the pilgrims’ movements will be monitored and the travel agents held responsible if anything untoward happens to the pilgrims.
The minister said that this year, the first timers were given preference in the pilgrims’ selection process. “I have also stipulated the minimum cost for each pilgrim, which should include the airfare, accommodation and internal travel,” he said, adding that any travel operator who tries to exploit the pilgrims will be severely dealt with.

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