Read the latest updates on the Hajj pilgrimage here
Saudi Arabia's Makkah Route, a government programme to help Hajj pilgrims from five countries with visa, customs and passport issues, is up and running.
The kingdom has been welcoming its first batch of foreign Hajj pilgrims this year. It has been three years since Makkah welcomed pilgrims from overseas owing to the coronavirus pandemic.
The first group — from Indonesia — landed in the city of Madinah on Saturday and are set to travel south to Makkah in the coming weeks to prepare for the Hajj next month, state media reported.
What is the Makkah Route initiative?
The Makkah Route initiative was launched in several countries in 2018 when the Saudi authorities began to put measures in place to ease travel procedures for pilgrims from abroad.
The service was introduced in Malaysia and Indonesia first, two of the countries with the largest proportion of Hajj pilgrims every year.
What does the service offer?
The services includes the issuance of visas, customs and passport procedures, dealing with health requirements, as well as sorting luggage according to transportation and housing arrangements in Saudi Arabia. All services are handled from the Hajj pilgrims’ point of departure in their home country or country of residence.
These pre-departure services will not only ease the arrival of pilgrims in the kingdom, but will also allow them to go directly to their accommodation in Makkah and Madinah without having to deal with time-consuming procedures.
Luggage is taken directly to the pilgrims’ accommodation.
Which ministries and agencies are involved?
Several government agencies in Saudi Arabia are involved in providing the pre-departure and arrival services for pilgrims.
These include the Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Hajj and Umrah, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Health, the General Authority of Civil Aviation, the Saudi Data and Artificial Intelligence Authority, the Pilgrim Experience Programme, the General Directorate of Passports, and the Elm Company.
Which countries are involved in the Makkah Route this year?
Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Morocco and Bangladesh.
How many foreign pilgrims have arrived so far?
Since the beginning of the pre-Hajj season, the Saudi authorities said Madinah recorded the arrival of about 19,000 pilgrims.
The number of arrivals on Wednesday reached 7,494. Five countries led the highest number of pilgrims so far, namely Indonesia with 8,276, then India with 4,364, Pakistan with 3,315, followed by Malaysia with 1,708, then Turkey with 1,071.
Are the procedures different for Hajj pilgrims coming from the West?
Saudi Arabia confirmed it has opened a separate online registration system for pilgrims arriving from the US, Europe and Australia for this year's pilgrimage.
Pilgrims will have to register directly at www.motawif.com.sa where they can access different travel packages and information.
How many foreign pilgrims are expected to attend and what are the travel requirements amid Covid-19?
For the past two years, pilgrims from abroad were barred from attending Hajj because of the coronavirus pandemic. This year, as travel restrictions and anti-Covid measures are slowly lifted across the world, Saudi Arabia said it will welcome up to a million pilgrims from abroad.
All Hajj pilgrims this year must be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 and be under 65 years of age. They must also present a negative PCR test conducted within 72 hours of their departure flight.