NEW DELHI: Saudi Arabia will open new visa centers in India and introduce budget flights to facilitate the increasing number of Indian pilgrims in their Umrah journeys, Saudi Minister of Hajj and Umrah Tawfiq Al-Rabiah said on Tuesday.
Al-Rabiah is in New Delhi as part of an official trip aimed at strengthening collaboration with Indian officials and partners and streamlining Umrah pilgrimage for international pilgrims.
As part of its Vision 2030 reform plan, the Kingdom has utilized technological advancements, enhanced measures, and upgraded infrastructure to “transform Umrah into a rewarding religious expedition” for Muslims worldwide, Al-Rabiah pointed out during a joint press conference in the Indian capital.
With more than 200 million people professing Islam in India, the Hindu-majority country has the world’s largest Muslim-minority population.
In 2023, the number of Umrah pilgrims from India increased by around 74 percent compared to last year, surpassing 1.2 million people.
That increase was the result of Saudi-India collaborative efforts, Al-Rabiah noted, adding that the two countries had initiated discussions to increase direct flights between them “to accommodate an increasing number of Indians looking to perform Umrah.”
“We’re also focused on enhancing capacity to meet the anticipated increase by introducing new scheduled flights through Saudi low-cost airlines, flynas and flyadeal,” he said.
“These efforts are complemented by initiatives to streamline visa issuance procedures and establish three new visa centers in India.”
Indian minority affairs minister, Smriti Irani, who held talks with Al-Rabiah on Tuesday, said they had “productive discussions on how to further deepen engagements,” particularly on their cooperation for Hajj pilgrimage.
“Both nations have agreed to continue to work together to make the Hajj process as convenient and as seamless as possible with best provision of services for all Hajj pilgrims,” Irani told reporters at the press conference.
Under the 2023 Hajj quota, around 175,000 Indians – nearly 47 percent of whom were women – traveled to Saudi Arabia for the spiritual journey that is one of the five pillars of Islam.
India’s Minister of State for External Affairs Vellamvelly Muraleedharan, said Al-Rabiah’s visit would “bolster the overall bilateral partnership” between the two countries, adding that Hajj was an “important aspect” of that relationship.
“There is a mutual recognition that our partnership will not only be beneficial to our countries and communities … but will be valuable to the region and the world,” Muraleedharan added.