ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has started preparations for the expansion of Saudi Arabia's flagship pre-departure immigration facility, Makkah Route, to include more Pakistani airports for Hajj 2021, the Religious Affairs Ministry said on Thursday.
Makkah Route was finalized during Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s visit to Pakistan in February last year, giving immigration clearance to 22,000 Pakistani pilgrims prior to their Hajj departure during the project's pilot phase in Islamabad.
“We have started work on the expansion of the Makkah Route project in other Pakistani cities during Hajj 2021. We have established contact with Saudi Hajj authorities and will work with them for the expansion of this facility,” the ministry's spokesman, Imran Siddiqui, told Arab News.
Siddiqui said Pakistan will wait for official approval from Saudi authorities to include also Lahore, Karachi, Peshawar and Quetta in the program, once the kingdom announces the Hajj season next year. The ministry's plan to have the four cities, besides Islamabad, under the initiative was upended during Hajj 2020 by the coronavirus pandemic.
Some 2.5 million pilgrims visit the holiest sites of Islam in Makkah and Madinah during the week-long Hajj each year, but this year only a limited number of people residing in Saudi Arabia were permitted to perform the pilgrimage.
An inter-ministerial meeting held by the Religious Affairs Ministry on Wednesday deliberated arrangements for the project's expansion.
“After the success of the project in Islamabad last year, Prime Minister Imran Khan ordered to expand the project to four provincial capitals,” the ministry said in a statement after the meeting.
Siddiqui added they were "very hopeful" that Saudi Arabia would agree to the Makkah Route extension. "Their feedback of Islamabad pilot project was very positive and encouraging."
“Saudi government under King Salman and Crown Prince MBS has always facilitated and gave priority to Pakistani Hajj pilgrims. But we also have to wait for the COVID-19 situation till Hajj time next year and decide according to precautionary measures issued by Saudi government."