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RIYADH: The first groups of pilgrims from several countries arrived in Saudi Arabia on Thursday ahead of this year’s Hajj.

Among them were 283 pilgrims from India, who were welcomed upon arrival at Prince Mohammed bin Abdulaziz International Airport in Madinah by the minister of transport and logistics services, Saleh bin Nasser Al-Jasser, and the deputy minister of Hajj and Umrah, Abdel Fattah bin Sulaiman Mashat.

Al-Jasser said 7,700 flights carrying Hajj pilgrims will arrive at six airports this year, which is the year 1445 in the Islamic Hijri calendar, and Saudi authorities are committed to providing the best services to them during their stays in the Kingdom. More than 27,000 buses will be in service, he added, and the high-speed Al-Haramain and Al-Mashaer trains will complete more than 5,000 journeys.

The Indian ambassador to the Kingdom, Suhel Ajaz Khan, who joined the Saudi ministers in greeting the first of this year’s pilgrims, told Arab News: “The Indian mission in Saudi Arabia stands fully ready to welcome Indian pilgrims and ensure a fulfilling experience for the Hajj 2024.

“This year, the Consulate General of India in Jeddah, in close coordination with concerned ministries of the government of India and the support of the concerned agencies in Saudi Arabia, has exerted the utmost efforts to put in place a well-planned, thorough operational architecture for facilitating a smooth Hajj experience for the pilgrims.

“We have a new smart app, Haj Suvidha app, which we have developed for pilgrims’ facilitation and grievance redressal mechanism, aiming to ensure a seamless pilgrimage journey with our app, dedicated to simplifying the Hajj application process for Indian citizens.

“This seamless operational Hajj 2024 architecture, created by the (Indian consulate) has now been set in motion with the arrival of the first two flights carrying Indian Hajj pilgrims from Hyderabad and New Delhi. Eleven more flights are expected to arrive during the course of the day, which will see around 4,000 Indian Hajj pilgrims arriving on the first day in Madinah.”

The first Hajj flight from Bangladesh, carrying 415 pilgrims, landed at King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah on Thursday morning. The country’s ambassador to the Kingdom, Mohammad Javed Patwary, joined other officials from the Bangladeshi mission in welcoming them at the airport.

“We are really happy to serve the pilgrims from Bangladesh,” the envoy told Arab News. “We have seen smooth service for the last three years under the Makkah Route Initiative; it is going better and better every year.

“Officials from all the concerned Saudi ministries, including the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah and the Ministry of Health, are here to welcome the pilgrims and help to make this lifetime journey a smooth experience.”

The Makkah Route Initiative is part of Saudi Arabia’s Guests of God Service Program, inaugurated by King Salman in 2019. It seeks to provide visitors to the holy sites with the best possible services to help them perform their Hajj rituals easily and comfortably.

The first of this year’s Hajj flights from Malaysia arrived on Thursday, in Madinah. The country’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Datuk Wan Zaidi Wan Abdullah, told Arab News: “The Makkah Route service pre-clearance arrangement has greatly benefited Malaysian Hajj pilgrims.

“This year, 31,600 Hajj pilgrims will benefit from the initiative and Malaysia is ready to expand the Makkah Route service for Umrah pilgrims, who (number) approximately 400,000 visitors annually.”

The first Hajj pilgrims from Pakistan also arrived in Madinah, where they were welcomed by the Pakistani ambassador to the Kingdom, Ahmad Farooq, Consul General Khalid Majid and senior Saudi officials.

The pilgrims arrived on flights from Karachi, Multan, Lahore and Islamabad. More than 2,100 were expected to arrive in Madinah on the first day, and the total number of Pakistani pilgrims expected to perform Hajj this year is 179,210. About half of them will do so under government schemes, the rest through private Hajj tour companies.

Pakistani officials said they have prepared the necessary accommodation for the pilgrims and will provide them with all required services and facilities, including a medical mission comprising 500 medical staff, including doctors and specialists.

Also on Thursday, the first batch of pilgrims from South Africa arrived in Jeddah.

Hajj is expected to begin on or around June 14 and conclude on June 19.

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