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Saudi Arabia extends ‘Makkah Route Initiative’ to Turkiye, easing pilgrimage process

May 31, 2023 at 6:03 pm

A number of hajj pilgrims make preparations before departing to the holy city of Mecca at Baghdad Airport in Baghdad, Iraq on May 30, 2023 [Murtadha Al-Sudani/Anadolu Agency]

Saudi Arabia has extended its ‘Makkah Route Initiative’ to Turkiye, making it easier for pilgrims from the country to plan and make their trips to the Islamic holy cities of Makkah and Madinah.

Launched in 2019 as part of the ‘Guests of God Service Programme’, which itself is one of the many initiatives in the Kingdom’s Vision 2030, the Makkah Route Initiative aims to streamline processes involving the preparation, registration and transport of pilgrims to the annual Hajj pilgrimage.

Procedures which are usually conducted over an extended period of time are simplified as they are all able to be done in the pilgrims’ home countries instead of some being done in their destination of Saudi Arabia.

Visas, passports, and health procedures for pilgrims can subsequently be completed before they leave their home countries, allowing them to head straight to their lodging and accommodation upon arrival in the Kingdom.

According to the Saudi Interior Ministry this week, that initiative is being carried out in Morocco, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, the Ivory Coast and now includes Turkiye as the latest country on the list.

READ: Saudi Arabia to host pre-pandemic numbers for 2023 Haj pilgrimage season

At the project’s launch at Istanbul Airport yesterday, Ali Erbas, the head of Turkiye’s top religious body, Diyanet, praised the project as one that provides huge convenience to Turkish pilgrims by enabling them to conduct the required procedures such as fingerprinting and passport control at that city’s airport rather than upon landing in Saudi Arabia.

“After our pilgrims depart from here, they will immediately get into cars and arrive at their hotels, without having to wait at the airports in Makkah and Madinah,” Erbas was quoted as saying. “When we consider the past difficulties, such as waiting in long passport queues, waiting to have their fingerprints taken, we can especially emphasise that this is a major project, a significant innovation.”

Sulaiman bin Abdulaziz Al Yahya, the Director-General of the Saudi General Directorate of Passports, also stated upon his attendance at the launch that “When pilgrims get on the plane from here, they will complete their journey as if they were on a domestic flight, even easier than a domestic flight, without any procedure.”

The initiative is expected to make Hajj pilgrimage – which sees millions of Muslims from around the world arrive in the Kingdom and the two holy cities annually – smoother and more streamlined for both pilgrims and authorities.

If it proves successful, it would be a significant improvement from the Motawif system that Saudi Arabia, last year, established for pilgrims from mainly Western countries, and which caused enormous blunders in the registration, payments, transport and accommodation of pilgrims.

READ: The Motawif chaos at Hajj reveals the flaw in Saudi Arabia’s centralisation strategy