Jordanians enjoy digital Hajj

At the dawn of the first day of Eid Al-Adha — the third day of Hajj — hundreds of thousands of pilgrims walked together to Jamarat Al-Aqaba in Mina. (AN photo by Essam Al-Ghalib)
Updated 11 August 2019

Jordanians enjoy digital Hajj

  • ‘90 percent of all pilgrims today get a visa using the electronic path’

AMMAN: For three years, Dr. Emad Abu Safieh has been filling out online Hajj applications. Every year he fills out two: One for his father Ahmad and his mother Shukrieh, and another for his 71-year old uncle Yousef. 

Safieh, 44, a university professor and dean of the business department at the Arab Open University in Amman, told Arab News that he was happy to help with the posting of Hajj request for his older relatives.

“The site is easy to use; after filling out the details, including contacts and a secondary phone number, a confirmation message is sent to both the basic phone number and the alternative one. Hajj digitalization is happening now and it works well.”

Safieh’s hope to accompany his father did not materialize this year, as only his uncle’s application was accepted. “But at least my dad will go as his companion, and he will also be accompanied by my mother,” Safieh said.

Hajj application digitalization covers both Saudi Arabia’s internal applications and the massive number of visa applications under the title “electronic visa path.” But while the electronic visa path is mostly connected to those wishing to travel by air, companies in countries like Jordan, where the majority of pilgrims prefer the land route, say that the digitization of the Hajj has helped them a lot.

Majdi Batoush, the lead technology officer at Jordan’s Islamic Waqf Department, told Arab News that the electronic path for the Hajj set up by the Saudi Ministry of Hajj has made life much easier for many. “In one site we have all the details and we no longer have to file through loads of paperwork as we used to do in the past.” 

Batoush says that nearly 90 percent of all pilgrims today get a visa using the electronic path created by the Saudi authorities. “Once online, the data can be shared to the benefit of all relevant bodies each as is necessary for their work,” he said.

In one site we have all the details and we no longer have to file through loads of paperwork as we used to do in the past.

Ali Daebess has been working at the Teeba Al-Bawadi Hajj and Umrah Tourist Co. for 19 years. Speaking to Arab News, Daebess explained that the digitalization of the Hajj has made life much easier also for tour companies. “We used to photograph and scan passports five or six times, and we had a ton of paperwork. Now everything is online and much easier.” 
Daebess concedes that most pilgrims are older and are not computer or internet literate. 

“They come to our office and we upload the information for them, we do it for free and it takes a few minutes to post.” The IT specialist, whose company’s Facebook page boasts over 27,000 followers, says that social media has been helpful. “We get a lot of feedback on social media mostly from relatives of pilgrims.”

Although the digital process appears smooth these days, Hajj companies and government officials admit that things were not easy at first. “It was hard at first to adjust and the site was difficult to navigate,” Majdi told Arab News, “but now things are much easier and we are able to process many more applications in a shorter period of time.”


UN agency for Palestinian refugees on tenterhooks over probe

A Palestinian refugee holds a placard at a school belonging to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) in the town of Sebline east of the southern Lebanese port of Saida, on March 12, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 22 October 2019

UN agency for Palestinian refugees on tenterhooks over probe

  • UNRWA’s budget for this year is $1.2 billion, with around 90 percent of that being linked to paying for the 30,000 staff it employees, most of them teachers, doctors and nurses

BRUSSELS: The UN agency for Palestinian refugees is waiting anxiously on the outcome this month of a probe into alleged mismanagement that has dented its already severely depleted funding, one of its top officials said Monday.
The UN Relief and Works Agency hopes the results of the investigation will enable it to get past the scandal that has worsened a cash crunch threatening the school and health services it provides to 5 million Palestinians.
UNRWA’s director for West Bank operations Gwyn Lewis told AFP in Brussels: “We’re waiting with bated breath because it obviously has financial implications.”
She said the conclusions of the probe are expected to be delivered “around the end of October” to UN chief Antonio Guterres, who would then issue public and internal “follow-up steps.”
The timing is crucial as the agency’s three-year mandate is up for renewal this month, and money is tight.
UNRWA has been skating on very thin financial ice since last year, after US President Donald Trump decided to suspend, then yank entirely his country’s contribution to the agency’s budget, robbing it of its top donor.
Those woes were compounded by the allegations of abuse by the agency’s management, leading other key donors — the Netherlands and Switzerland — to snap shut their purses.
That has left the agency struggling to provide the schooling, medical and sanitary programs it runs for Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza.
According to a copy of an internal UN report obtained by AFP in July, senior management at UNRWA engaged in “sexual misconduct, nepotism, retaliation, discrimination and other abuses of authority, for personal gain.”

FASTFACT

The UN Relief and Works Agency hopes the results of the investigation will enable it to get past the scandal that has worsened a cash crunch threatening the school and health services it provides to 5 million Palestinians.

Lewis did not confirm those allegations, noting only “rumors” and leaks to the media.
“None of us have actually seen it,” she said of the report, adding: “Our sense is that it’s not about financial misappropriation or corruption, it’s linked to management and human resources issues.”
She did note that the agency’s deputy chief, Sandra Mitchell, had been replaced in August by an acting deputy commissioner-general tasked with strengthening human resources and financial oversight.
Lewis said she was in Brussels for two days of meetings with European Commission officials to shore up UNRWA’s mandate renewal and, importantly, to maintain funding.
Despite program cutbacks, the agency faces an $89 million shortfall for the rest of this year, she said, and “financial uncertainty” beyond that.
UNRWA’s budget for this year is $1.2 billion, with around 90 percent of that being linked to paying for the 30,000 staff it employees, most of them teachers, doctors and nurses. Making up for the pulled US funding was a “challenge,” she said.