Malaysian Hajj pilgrims make most of Makkah Route

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At Kuala Lumpur Airport, pilgrims first enter the Malaysian immigration hall to get their passports processed, then proceed to the Saudi hall for the visa check. The whole process takes about 10 minutes before they are ushered into the waiting hall for boarding. (AN photos by Muhd Fadza Ishak)
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Saudi Ambassador to Malaysia, Ambassador Mahmoud Hussien Qattan said the Mecca Road Initiative is part of Saudi's Vision 2030 to develop better services to the people who visit Saudi Arabia. (AN photo by Muhd Fadza Ishak)
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Malaysian pilgrim said the Mecca Road Initiative would give pilgrims a peace of mind when travelling for Hajj. (AN photo by Muhd Fadza Ishak)
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The whole visa process for the Mecca Road Initiative took only 10 minutes, said Malaysian pilgrim Maznah Bashar. (AN photo by Muhd Fadza Ishak)
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"we are the first and last person to greet the pilgrims at the airport and I always try to leave a good impression to them," said Saudi Immigration Officer, Saad Alqarni, to Arab News. (AN photo by Muhd Fadza Ishak)
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The Mecca Road Initiative at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport. (AN photo by Muhd Fadza Ishak)
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The Mecca Road Initiative at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport. (AN photo by Muhd Fadza Ishak)
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The Mecca Road Initiative at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport. (AN photo by Muhd Fadza Ishak)
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The Mecca Road Initiative at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport. (AN photo by Muhd Fadza Ishak)
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The Mecca Road Initiative at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport. (AN photo by Muhd Fadza Ishak)
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The Mecca Road Initiative at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport. (AN photo by Muhd Fadza Ishak)
Updated 03 August 2019

Malaysian Hajj pilgrims make most of Makkah Route

  • The initiative has helped pilgrims clear immigration in just 10 minutes

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian Hajj pilgrims traveling to Saudi Arabia via Kuala Lumpur International Airport as part of the Makkah Route initiative are spending only 10 minutes at both Malaysian and Saudi immigration counters before boarding.

“The Malaysian and Saudi governments are very happy with the initiative,” Saudi Ambassador to Malaysia Mahmoud Hussien Qattan told Arab News. “We’ve been successful in reducing time spent on immigration procedures.”
The initiative will process 30,200 Malaysian pilgrims traveling to Saudi Arabia for this year’s Hajj.
Malaysia was the first country to implement the initiative in 2017. Indonesia followed suit in 2018.
This year, it has been expanded to Bangladesh, Pakistan and Tunisia, and 250,000 pilgrims are expected to be processed.
“We chose Malaysia as the first pilot program for the initiative because they’re very cooperative and organized. We’re in constant discussion with the Malaysian side and the relation is very good,” said Qattan.
The initiative is part of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 reform plan, and the government wants to make the visa process easier for Muslims who want to go to Makkah and Madinah, he added.
“One of our goals is to develop our services for the people who visit Saudi Arabia, especially for those who come for Hajj and Umrah. However, our aim is to serve Muslims who visit Saudi Arabia all year around,” he said.
At Kuala Lumpur International Airport, there are two halls for Malaysian and Saudi immigration, which are situated side by side.
Malaysian pilgrims first enter the Malaysian immigration hall to get their passports processed, then proceed to the Saudi hall for the visa check.
The whole process takes about 10 minutes before they are ushered into the waiting hall for boarding.
“The initiative helps to finalize the immigration process for pilgrims on Malaysian soil, as if they’re in Saudi Arabia,” Saudi immigration officer Maj. Ahmad Ahshehri told Arab News.
“Malaysians are very friendly people. It’s very easy to communicate and cooperate with them.”

FASTFACT

• The Makkah Route initiative will process 30,200 Malaysian pilgrims traveling to Saudi Arabia for this year’s Hajj.

• Malaysia was the first country to implement the initiative in 2017. Indonesia followed suit in 2018.

• This year, it has been expanded to Bangladesh, Pakistan and Tunisia, and 250,000 pilgrims are expected to be processed.

• The Makkah Route initiative is part of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 reform plan, says Saudi envoy to Malaysia.

Saudi immigration officer Saad Al-Qarni said he has not encountered any problems processing visas for Malaysian pilgrims as part of the initiative.
“Everything here is facilitated by the Malaysian government. It’s a good initiative because it’s easy and convenient for pilgrims,” he told Arab News.
“After processing their visa and passport, they can enter Saudi Arabia without going through immigration in Jeddah,” he said.
“I enjoy my work at immigration because we’re the first and last person to greet pilgrims at the airport, and I always try to leave a good impression on them.”
Malaysian pilgrim Maznah Bashar, 60, said she was both excited and anxious about going to Makkah for Hajj for the first time.
“I went to Makkah for Umrah before, but it’s not the same experience as we didn’t go to Arafat, Muzdalifah, Mina and many more (places),” she told Arab News.
“Before this, I didn’t enjoy the long wait at Saudi immigration in Jeddah, but under the Makkah Route initiative, the whole process took a mere 10 minutes and they treated us very well,” she said.
“After we arrive in Jeddah, a bus will await us at the airport and will send us straight to our hotel. Even our luggage will be sent directly to the hotel. The system is very fast.”
But Bashar said the immigration hall “felt a bit crowded as there were more than 400 pilgrims processed” there.
Zaifizar bin Zainal Abidin, 42, a Malaysian pilgrim traveling with his wife and daughter, told Arab News that the initiative “helps give us peace of mind, especially for us who have to travel for a long period of time.”
He said: “I’m excited to go to Makkah. It’ll be the first and probably the only time I’ll experience Hajj together with my wife and daughter.”


Bangladeshi courts freeing child suspects due to virus risk

Updated 19 min 4 sec ago

Bangladeshi courts freeing child suspects due to virus risk

  • On Friday, the total number of COVID-19 infections in Bangladesh stood at 60,391, with 811 deaths
  • About 400 children have been granted bail in recent weeks and more than 300 of them have already been reunited with their families

DHAKA: Authorities in Bangladesh have been releasing hundreds of children suspected of committing mostly petty crimes as they try to keep the coronavirus from spreading in overcrowded detention centers, officials said Friday.
The orders for their release on bail came from virtual courts set up by the country’s Supreme Court with the help of UNICEF, officials said.
About 400 children have been granted bail in recent weeks and more than 300 of them have already been reunited with their families, said Natalie McCauley, chief of child protection at UNICEF in Bangladesh.
She said the decision came as public health experts said children living in the country’s detention centers face a higher risk of getting infected, mainly because of overcrowding and poor conditions.
Bangladesh has a protracted system of delivering justice, with some cases for petty crimes taking years to conclude. According to UNICEF, some 23,000 cases involving children under 18 are currently pending with courts across the country.
Saifur Rahman, a special officer of the Supreme Court and additional district judge who is involved with the release program, said the program was crucial as with inadequate staff and utilities in detention centers, it was extremely difficult to minimize the risk of infection from COVID-19.
“In all fairness, maintaining social and physical distancing is next to impossible in such a situation,” he said.
Mohammed Rakib, 15, was accused of beating a man in Dhaka nearly two months ago. A judge from a regular court denied him bail and he was eventually sent to an overcrowded detention center just outside Dhaka that UNICEF says houses nearly 700 children even though it has the capacity for about 300.
Late last month he was finally granted bail through the new virtual court.
“It feels great to be freed and get united with my parents,” Rakib told The Associated Press on Friday. “I am very happy. I have suffered in the jail a lot. That’s a bad place.”
The reunion was special for Rakib and his family as they were able to celebrate the end of Ramadan together.
“His mother burst into tears after seeing our youngest son,” said his father Mohammed Abdul Hakim. “It was a moment of joy. We love him a lot.”
On Friday, the total number of COVID-19 infections in Bangladesh stood at 60,391, with 811 deaths. Public health experts say the actual number of the infected people is likely much higher.