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.”


Thousands of members of the United Auto Workers have walked out of General Motors facilities in the first nationwide strike in 12 years

Updated 16 min 21 sec ago

Thousands of members of the United Auto Workers have walked out of General Motors facilities in the first nationwide strike in 12 years

  • Late on Sunday, US President Donald Trump on Twitter urged the UAW and GM to “get together and make a deal!.”
  • A strike will very quickly shut down GM’s operations across North America and could hurt the broader US economy

DETROIT/WASHINGTON: The United Auto Workers (UAW) went on strike at General Motors just after midnight Sunday and about 48,000 hourly workers at its facilities are headed for the picket lines in the morning, union officials said early Monday.

US labor contract talks reached an impasse on Sunday, the UAW called for the first nationwide strike at GM in 12 years. “We do not take this lightly,” Terry Dittes, the UAW vice president in charge of the union’s relationship with GM, said at a news conference in downtown Detroit on Sunday.

“This is our last resort.” GM said in a statement that its offer to the UAW during talks included more than $7 billion in new investments, 5,400 jobs — a majority of which would be new — pay increases, improved benefits and a contract-ratification bonus of $8,000.
“We have negotiated in good faith and with a sense of urgency,” the automaker said.

Late on Sunday, US President Donald Trump on Twitter urged the UAW and GM to “get together and make a deal!.” GM spokesman Tony Cervone said the automaker “couldn’t agree more” with Trump’s call.

A strike will very quickly shut down GM’s operations across North America and could hurt the broader US economy. Prolonged industrial action would also cause hardship for GM hourly workers on greatly reduced strike pay.

GM’s workers last went out on a brief two-day strike in 2007 during contract talks. A more painful strike occurred in Flint, Michigan, in 1998, lasting 54 days and costing the No. 1 US automaker more than $2 billion.

No further talks were scheduled before the strike is set to begin, a union spokesman and GM said. Talks are set to resume on Monday at 10 a.m. EDT (1400 GMT).

The union has been fighting to stop GM from closing auto assembly plants in Ohio and Michigan, and arguing workers deserve higher pay after years of record profits for GM in North America.

GM argues the plant shutdowns are necessary responses to market shifts, and that UAW wages and benefits are expensive compared with competing non-union auto plants in southern US states. In its statement, the automaker said its offer to the union included solutions for the Michigan and Ohio assembly plants currently lacking products.

A person familiar with GM’s offer said that could include producing a future electric vehicle in Detroit. It could also include turning a plant in Lordstown, Ohio, into an electric vehicle battery plant or going through with the proposed sale of the plant to a group affiliated with electric vehicle start-up Workhorse Group Inc.

A new battery plant could give some UAW workers at Lordstown the chance to remain with GM. The closure of Lordstown drew widespread criticism, including from Trump, who met with GM Chief Executive Mary Barra on Sept. 5. Ohio is crucial to Trump’s re-election bid in 2020.

But several Democratic presidential candidates said they backed the UAW, including Senators Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris, former Vice President Joe Biden and Representative Tim Ryan.

Sanders noted GM received a US-taxpayer funded $50 billion bailout a decade ago. “Our message to General Motors is a simple one: End the greed, sit down with the UAW and work out an agreement that treats your workers with the respect and the dignity they deserve,” Sanders said in a statement.

Biden said on Twitter he backed the UAW’s demand for “fair wages and benefits for their members. America’s workers deserve better.”
The union has framed the plant closures as a betrayal of workers who made concessions in 2009 to help GM through its government-led bankruptcy.

“General Motors needs to understand that we stood up for GM when they needed us,” Ted Krumm, head of the union’s bargaining committee in talks with GM, said at the Sunday news conference. These are profitable times ... and we deserve a fair contract.”

The UAW says significant differences remain between both sides over wages, health care benefits, temporary employees, job security and profit sharing.

The strike will test both the union and GM at a time when the US auto industry is facing slowing sales and rising costs for launching electric vehicles and curbing emissions.

Kristin Dziczek, vice president of industry, labor and economics at the Ann Arbor, Michigan-based Center for Automotive Research (CAR), said the strike at GM’s US facilities will also shut its plants in Canada and Mexico as the automaker’s supply chain is so integrated.

“That’s going to have a big effect on the economy,” she said. GM starts off the strike with healthy levels of inventory of some its key, high-margin vehicles.

As of Sept. 1, the automaker had 96 days supply of its Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck, 59 days supply of its Chevrolet Equinox SUV and more than 100 days supply of the Cadillac Escalade.

If the strike is short, hourly workers should not suffer much. But strike pay provided by the UAW, which has been building up reserves in preparation for possible industrial action, is just $250 per week.

The automaker has 12 vehicle assembly plants, 12 engine and power train facilities and a handful of other US stamping plants and other facilities.

On Friday, the UAW announced temporary contract extensions with Ford Motor Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV (FCA) while it focused its attention on GM.

The union had targeted GM as the first automaker with which it wanted to conclude contract talks. The International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which transports some GM vehicles to dealerships, said it would honor the UAW’s GM picket lines.