RIYADH: The first batch of Sri Lankan pilgrims arrived at the Haj Terminal in Jeddah on Thursday evening. Ambassador Ahmed A. Jawad, Consul General Adam Bawa Uthumalebbe and officials from the Lankan consulate in Jeddah received them.
At the Colombo airport, the pilgrims were seen off by senior minister in charge of Sri Lankan Haj operations Abdul Hameed Mohamed Fowzie, Western Province Gov. Alavi Mowlana, Deputy Chief of Mission of the Saudi Embassy in Colombo Farook Wazeer Ali, Saudi Arabian Airlines Country Manager for Colombo and Maldives Fikry Al-Towayan, Aero World Managing Director Kareem Shums and Traveler Globe Managing Director Rizmi Reyal.
Jawad said the first group of 160 pilgrims was from two travel groups from the island. He said the Saudi authorities had raised Sri Lanka’s Haj quota this year to 3,800 pilgrims from the original quota of 2,800. The last group from the island would come to Makkah on Oct. 30.
“Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa has given special instructions to the Sri Lankan missions in the Kingdom directing the respective heads of missions to offer the best facilities and services to the Lankan pilgrims,” Jawad said, adding that the embassy in Riyadh and the consulate in Jeddah have prepared their staff to serve the pilgrims. He added that this year Saudi Arabian Airlines and SriLankan Airlines would carry the pilgrims from Colombo.
Saudia will fly 15 Haj flights while SriLankan will bring pilgrims on its regular flights to Jeddah. The country’s national carrier would carry a full load of pilgrims on Oct. 11 from Colombo.
Uthumalebbe said his consulate has deployed a team at the Haj Terminal to meet and greet Sri Lankan pilgrims. The officials will offer refreshments to the pilgrims on arrival and attend to their needs till they leave for the holy cities. He added that his mission had formed three teams in Makkah, Jeddah and Madinah to assist the pilgrims.
The Saudi Foreign Ministry sent two diplomats to the Saudi Embassy in Colombo on Monday to issue Haj visas to Colombo pilgrims. According to an official from the Saudi Embassy in Colombo, the issuance of Haj visas to the pilgrims through their respective travel operators is smooth.
Speaking from Colombo, Fowzie said this year those doing Haj for the first time have been given preference in the pilgrims’ selection process. “I have also stipulated a maximum charge of Rs340,000 for each pilgrim that should include airfare, accommodation and internal travel,” Fowzie said, warning that any travel operator who surcharge will be severely dealt with.
Around seven percent of the country’s 20.2 million inhabitants are Muslims.