The Saudi Haj Ministry is currently planning to considerably reduce the number of foreign and domestic Haj pilgrims this season, a reliable source told Arab News. This was also confirmed Tuesday by the Saudi Gazette. “Directives have been issued to cut down the number of foreign and domestic pilgrims by 20 and 50 percent respectively,” a local daily reported quoting an informed source.
A technical committee is currently working on the modalities of implementing the directive. The sources said the reduction in the number of local and foreign pilgrims was necessitated by the giant development projects currently being undertaken in the Grand Mosque and the Holy Sites. They said these projects were aimed at enabling the pilgrims and visitors to complete their Haj and Umrah rites in ease.
This has raised renewed concerned among at least 40 countries like South Africa who annually apply for increases to their quotas due to long waiting lists of prospective hujjaj. In 2011, 3,000 South Africans were allowed to perform haj, which last year was cut to 2,500. The latter is the official SA quota of 2,000 with a concession of 500, with SA’s annual request for a additional concession being denied for the first time. This saw an exponential growth in the umrah industry with almost 30,000 South Africans performing umrah between December and May this year.
Late last month the South African Haj and Umrah Council (Sahuc) reported that a three month process to accredit 2,500 hujjaj has been concluded for this year’s haj, after being culled from a waiting list of some 16,000. With this done, local haj operators were expected to start leaving for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia this week to finalise their haj services, based on the number of accredited hujjaj who had signed contracts with them for haj this year. But the latest limitations has created renewed nervousness in the market.
Meanwhile, Haj Minister Dr. Bandar Al-Hajjar denied that the number of visas granted to Umrah companies were reduced this year, but said the number has been distributed to cover the whole year. “The companies should use the visas granted to them on time and should not hold them to be used in one month,” he said. The minister said that under the new arrangements the visas will be granted on a monthly basis so the companies should use them the same month.
“If the visas are not used during the same month, they will be canceled,” he warned. The minister said he has noted that Umrah companies kept the visas granted to them for the months of Rajab and Sha’aban for use in the month of Ramadan. “This practice will disrupt the ministry’s plans and the system of visa issuance which is tied to the provision of accommodation, transportation and other services,” he said. ARAB NEWS/VOC/SAUDI GAZETTE