Saudi Hajj ministry seeks alternative flights for overseas pilgrims

Authorities say technical faults have hampered travel plans of would-be visitors from Britain, Europe and the US

epa08577935 A handout photo made available by the Saudi Ministry of Media shows pilgrims praying during the Tawaf Al-Ifadah during the symbolic ritual of 'Stoning the Devil', throwing seven pebbles at the largest of the three pillars, known as Jamrat Al-Aqaba on the third day of Hajj 2020 in Mina,  in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, 31 July 2020. A limited number of pilgrims of citizens and residents of Saudi Arabia began the Hajj rituals on 29 July amid strict preventative health measures taken by the Saudi authorities to ensure that pilgrims are free of COVID-19 Coronavirus.  EPA/SAUDI MINISTRY OF MEDIA HANDOUT  HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALES
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Saudi Arabia's Hajj Ministry has said it is seeking alternative flights for pilgrims from Europe and the US who have had problems with an online portal.

It said the “urgent package of solutions” aims to ensure that everyone chosen for this year’s Hajj in the ballot will be able to go.

The pilgrimage season will begin on July 7 and is the first since the coronavirus outbreak that worshippers from outside Saudi Arabia can attend.

The kingdom introduced a new one-stop portal for overseas visitors to request a Saudi visa and book a package for their pilgrimage.

But some British Muslims said the portal had caused confusion and the ministry said some pilgrims had faced technical problems.

It said there was limited capacity on flights. The first group of pilgrims from Europe, the US and Australia arrived on Saturday.

Saudi Arabia’s embassy in the UK said authorities were “working tirelessly” to ensure that everyone gets a ticket.

The ministry “is working to secure alternative flights and additional seats for pilgrims wishing to travel to Saudi Arabia from Britain, the United States of America and European countries”, it said.

“It is also ensuring the immediate issuance of visas to enter the kingdom. The ministry is in regular contact with those affected by the limited seating capacity and the technical difficulties experienced by pilgrims using the electronic portal.”

It assured visitors that authorities would “follow up [on] the condition of pilgrims in the kingdom and abroad, to ensure their arrival is facilitated before performing the rituals”.

Saudi Arabia’s Supreme Court on Wednesday announced that Hajj would begin on July 7, after the crescent moon was sighted. Applications for foreign visitors were open from June 10 to June 13.

Visitors from abroad must by fully vaccinated against the coronavirus and younger than 65 as of Friday. People who have not made the pilgrimage before were given priority in the ballot.

Updated: July 06, 2022, 11:22 AM