Saudi missions abroad have issued 5.5 million Umrah visas until June 2.
“As many as 4.9 million of the faithful have already performed Umrah this year,” said Abdullah Marghalani, assistant undersecretary for Umrah affairs at the Haj Ministry. There was a shortfall of 200,000 Umrah visas this season compared to the same period in 2014, he said.
Hundreds of thousands of foreign pilgrims are expected to come for Umrah during the fasting month of Ramadan, which is expected to start on June 18. “We expect the total number of Umrah pilgrims this season to be around the same as last year,” said Marghalani.
“The electronic service introduced by the ministry in coordination with Umrah service providers has helped reduce many negative developments,” he added. He said the electronic grouping system has reduced overcrowding of pilgrims at airports and border points.
“We have also introduced five Umrah Plus tourism programs for pilgrims in coordination with authorities in Jeddah without affecting their rituals.” Meanwhile, Sheikh Abdul Rahman Al-Sudais, head of the Presidency of the Two Holy Mosques, said his organization would deploy 12,000 workers to assist the millions of Muslims expected to visit the two holy mosques in Makkah and Madinah during Ramadan.
“We’ll start implementing the Ramadan plan on June 5,” said Al-Sudais, adding that pilgrims and worshippers would be able to use all three expanded areas of the mataf, circumambulation area around the Holy Kaaba, during the holy month.
“We have completed all the basic work of the third phase by 100 percent,” Al-Sudais said. Pilgrims will be able to circumambulate not only in the immediate circle of the mataf but also on the ground floor, first floor and terrace, thus reducing congestion, he said. He said the remaining mataf expansion would be completed after Ramadan and before the upcoming Haj season, when more than 2.5 million Muslims are expected.