Saudi Arabia to issue 10 million Umrah e-visas this year

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Saudi officials welcomed pilgrims arrived in Madinah on July 24, 2019. (SPA)
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The target number of pilgrims in 2021 will be 15 million, according to officials. (SPA) Saudi Arabia to issue 10 million Umrah e-visas this year
Updated 18 August 2019

Saudi Arabia to issue 10 million Umrah e-visas this year

  • Pakistanis top list of pilgrims performing Umrah at 1.6 million this year
  • By 2021, target number of Umrah performers is 15 million: official

ISLAMABAD: The chief planning and strategy officer at the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah, Dr. Amr Al-Maddah, said that as of Saturday, August 17, the ministry is seeking to issue 10 million visas for this year’s Umrah season.
The visas will be issued electronically without the need to visit embassies and consulates for the stamp, he said.
According to Pakistan’s Ministry of Religious Affairs Spokesman, Imran Siddiqui, Pakistanis top the list of pilgrims performing Umrah. “This year alone, more than 1.6 million Pakistanis performed Umrah,” Siddiqui said.
Last month, Saudi Arabia’s cabinet decided to allow millions of Umrah pilgrims to travel to other cities in the country, instead of being restricted to Makkah, Madinah and Jeddah.
“I believe this is another gift from the Kingdom. Now, any Pakistani who travels to Saudi Arabia to perform Umrah can avail this opportunity to meet their family members and friends living in different parts of the Kingdom,” Siddiqui told Arab News last month after the Kingdom’s decision, and added that this would bring ease to Pakistani nationals who perform Umrah in the greatest numbers. 
By 2030, Al-Maddah said the ministry is seeking to issue Umrah visas for 30 million pilgrims.
Saudi Arabia had the capacity for these numbers, he said, and the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah aims to remove obstacles for businesses offering services to pilgrims.
Al-Maddah said: “The target number of pilgrims in 1442 AH (2021) will be 15 million. The ministry is well-prepared for these cumulative numbers, and pilgrims now have several e-booking platforms that continue to increase and are no longer limited to external agents.”
“The central reservation platform is a reservation engine that serves as a link connecting all Umrah service providers, including housing, Umrah, reception, transport, experience enrichment, and cultural trips associated with online booking platforms like Agoda, Booking, Musafir and others.”
He added: “This way, the ministry ensures that all services are available to pilgrims inside and outside the Kingdom through the Internet and reliable websites, which pilgrims are accustomed to using when making their bookings. The ministry will ensure that all offers adhere to the set standards and regulatory requirements.”
Al-Maddah explained that this will also guarantee that the ministry receives the pilgrims’ correct information.
He said: “This is a mechanism through which the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah organizes the process of purchasing services and packages, which were previously purchased from tourist offices with insufficient information, through the Internet and with comprehensive surveillance.”
“Pilgrims will be provided with a reference number when they buy a package from these online platforms. This will allow them to obtain an e-visa without the need to visit embassies and consulates to get a stamp because their visas are now electronic, which has been prepared since the last month of the previous Hajj season.”
According to Al-Maddah, there are certain cases that will require pilgrims to visit embassies and consulates, but most applicants will complete their procedures electronically.
He explained that pilgrims will have to access online platforms such as Agoda, Booking, Holiday Inn or Maqam, and select the suitable package offered by tour operators and Umrah companies, or they can design their own program, including the time of arrival and the rest of the bookings and services. When completed, they can enter their data and online payment details to receive the reference number to obtain the e-visa immediately. 


Protests mount in Indian-administered Kashmir clampdown

Updated 15 September 2019

Protests mount in Indian-administered Kashmir clampdown

  • Tensions remain high in the disputed Himalayan region
  • New Delhi last month to revoked the territory’s decades old semi-autonomous status

SRINAGAR, India: Kashmir has seen an average of nearly 20 protests per day against Indian rule over the last six weeks despite a security lockdown to quell unrest, a senior government source said.
Tensions remain high in the disputed Himalayan region after New Delhi’s controversial decision last month to revoke the territory’s decades old semi-autonomous status.
Despite a curfew, movement restrictions and the severe curtailment of Internet and mobile phone services, public demonstrations against India — mostly in the largest city Srinagar — have been constant, the source said late Saturday.
Altogether there have been 722 protests since August 5, with Baramulla district in the northwest and Pulwama in the south the biggest hotspots after Srinagar, the source said.
Since that date, nearly 200 civilians and 415 security force members have been hurt, according to the source.
Ninety-five of the civilians were injured in the last two weeks, the official said.
So far more than 4,100 people — including 170 local political leaders — have been detained across the valley, with 3,000 released in the past two weeks, the official said.
It was unclear whether any politicians were among those released.
Indian authorities have so far insisted that outbreaks of violence have been minimal, and that only five civilians have died since the clampdown started.
The relatives of four of those killed said they believed the security forces were responsible for their deaths.
The latest updates came as police said Thursday that three men suspected of belonging to a Pakistan-based militant organization were arrested while transporting weapons and ammunition toward Indian Kashmir.
Nuclear-armed neighbors India and Pakistan have fought two wars over Kashmir, which was split between the two countries in 1947.
India deployed extra troops ahead of the August 5 decision to reinforce some 500,000 soldiers already stationed in the region, one of the most militarized places on the planet.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan on Friday promised to raise the decision to strip Indian Kashmir of its autonomy at the upcoming UN General Assembly session.