COLOMBO: The Saudi government has increased the Hajj quota for Sri Lankan pilgrims by adding 500 visas to the existing number, bringing the total to 4,000 from this year, Azmi Thassim, the island’s ambassador in Riyadh, told Arab News on Saturday.
Mohamed Hashim Mohamed Haleem, minister of postal services and Muslim religious affairs, thanked King Salman and Saudi Minister of Hajj and Umrah Dr. Mohammed Salih Bentin for this enhanced facility to allow more people to perform Hajj.
The Sri Lankan minister said that the new quota would be distributed among the prospective pilgrims on the ministry’s waiting list.
The minister said that for the first time in Sri Lanka, its Hajj pilgrims would obtain their entry visas to the Kingdom through an online portal. “We are thankful to the Saudi government for the new service which will save time and effort to obtain the Hajj visas for the pilgrims,” Haleem said.
Prospective pilgrims have to apply with the required documents through a licensed travel operator in Sri Lanka, which will obtain the pilgrimage visas for the applicants provided they have not performed Hajj in the past five years. Applicants are required to attach their health certificates and other requested documents along with their applications.
“The Saudi government has been considerate in gradually increasing this quota from 2,240 pilgrims in 2015 to 3,500 to this year, and now an additional quota of 500 more pilgrims has been given on a request made by my ministry,” the minister said.
The minister explained that the Easter Sunday bomb blasts had an impact on the movement of the Hajj pilgrimage this year since about 100 pilgrims had withdrawn from the selected list due to pecuniary difficulties.
He said that the security situation was quickly returning to normal, and there was no reason for concern.
He said the first flight of pilgrims is scheduled to leave Colombo by Saudi Arabia Airlines on July 15 from Bandaranaike International Airport. Sri Lankan Airlines will also fly pilgrims to the Kingdom.
Commending the health facilities and services available in Makkah and Madinah, he said that the Sri Lankan government would also send a team to attend to pilgrims with any urgent medical needs until they were taken to the nearest medical facilities.
Last year, the minister recalled that a Sri Lankan pilgrim successfully underwent heart surgery in Makkah. “These facilities were offered free-of-charge by the government of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman, to look after the millions of Hajj and Umrah pilgrims who visit the holy cities throughout the year,” he said.