As British Hajj pilgrims are said to have failed getting visas and booking flights to Saudi Arabia, the Kingdom’s officials promised to resolve the problem less than a week to the ceremony.
On June 7, and less than four weeks to the Hajj pilgrimage, Saudi Arabia announced that it has created a new travel portal in order to automate and streamline the religious ceremony. The new patrol is called by the Saudi Ministry of Hajj as “Motawif”, defining it as “an exclusive online platform to offer Hajj services to Muslims in Europe, America, and Australia for the 1443 – 2022 Hajj season.”
But in the first days of launching the new initiative, it faced unexpected technical issues which disrupted many people’s plans. Back then, the Kingdom promised to secure alternative flights for pilgrims who were affected by the malfunction. However, many people from around the world who had decided to take part in this year’s Hajj ceremony are reported to still have troubles in this regard. This is while only 5 days remain to the start of the annual pilgrimage that is due to commence on July 7.
British Muslims, for example, have told Sky News that although they have paid thousands of pounds for Hajj packages in the hope of arriving to Saudi Arabia this month, they have literally been left without flights or visas.
The Kingdom’s Ministry of Hajj and Umrah said in a statement that it is “working to secure alternative flights and additional seats for pilgrims wishing to travel to Saudi Arabia from Britain, the United State of America and European countries”. It also noted that the Ministry has plans to ensure “the immediate issuance of visas to enter the Kingdom,” and that it is “in regular contact with those affected by the limited seating capacity and the technical difficulties experienced by pilgrims using the electronic portal.”
How Covid-19 pandemic changed the holy Hajj pilgrimage?
The Hajj ceremony is one of the five pillars of Islam that must be undertaken by all Muslims who have the financial as well as physical criteria at least once in their lifetime. It is the world’s largest religious gathering during which usually more than 2.5 million people participate. With the arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic, however, strict restrictions followed in all around the world, including in Saudi Arabia. This made the number of Hajj pilgrims to the Kingdom reduce drastically.
Last year, for example, only 60,000 pilgrims were allowed to hold the religious ceremony. The year before even saw as few as less than 1,000 travelers in Saudi Arabia. Good to mention that in 2019, the year when the last Hajj before the coronavirus outbreak was held, about 2.6 million people took part in the ceremony. It was last month that Saudi Arabia announced it would allow one million people, from both inside and outside of the country, to come to Mecca on July 7 and perform the Hajj pilgrimage.
But this year’s Hajj is not completely released from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. In other words, individuals who wish to come to the Kingdom and take part in the Hajj ceremony must be under 65 years of age and also be fully vaccinated against Covid-19. International pilgrims must also submit a negative COVID-19 test result that has been taken within 72 hours before leaving their home country to Saudi Arabia. In addition, Hajj visa holders are allowed to travel only between Jeddah, Medina, and Mecca, with non-Muslims being prohibited from entering Mecca and central Medina.