JEDDAH — Deputy Minister of Hajj and Umrah Dr. Abdelfattah Mashat has said that a remarkable increase has been witnessed in the capacity of the holy mosques in Makkah and Madinah.

Dr. Abdelfattah Mashat made the remarks while speaking to Asharq al-Awsat. He added that there has also been a remarkable surge in the number of Umrah pilgrims coming from outside Saudi Arabia.

Dr. Mashat said that there was a noticeable increase in the number of pilgrims from all countries, but the largest numbers came from Pakistan, Indonesia, India, Iraq, Yemen and Bangladesh. "The coming period will witness an increase in the number of pilgrims from various other countries of the world", he said.

His remarks came after a month and a half from the start of the Umrah season at the beginning of the new Hijri year, The influx of pilgrims to the Grand Mosque and visitors to the Prophet's Mosque indicates that the current season will record an increase that will exceed the previous seasons, especially since Saudi Arabia's government worked to facilitate Muslims from all over the world to visit the two Holy Mosques.

Dr. Mashat pointed out that this increase in numbers and capacity resulted from several factors, foremost of which is the Kingdom's efforts to simplify visa procedures.

Among the factors that contributed to this increase are the facilities provided by the Nusuk platform for people to be able to obtain a visa and communicate with service providers, as well as the increase in the number of companies operating in Umrah services, and those specialized in the fields of hospitality that compete to provide the best services with high quality.

The new regulations also had a role in enabling those coming from outside Saudi Arabia who hold various types of visas to perform Umrah, in addition to extending the validity period of the Umrah visa to 90 days and canceling the requirement of mahram (blood relative) to accompany a woman pilgrim, Dr. Mashat said.

The surge in the number of Umrah pilgrims is attributed also to the facility allowing direct application for the Umrah visa through the Nusuk platform, as well as the decision to reduce the value of medical insurance without compromising the quality of services provided, and allowing visa holders to move throughout all regions of Saudi Arabia.

Speaking of Nusuk, Dr. Mashat said it is the most prominent platform in digital and technical transformations in serving the pilgrims, as it is a comprehensive portal through which the user can plan the entire Umrah trip.

One of the things that contributed to ensuring the quality of services provided to pilgrims throughout their journey is the establishment of the Guest Care Centers (Enaya) by the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah, which are characterized by working around the clock to receive complaints of Umrah performers in all languages, as well as working to address them in the shortest period of time.

Dr. Mashat said that the ministry is also keen to monitor the work of Umrah service providers through a number of follow-up mechanisms, stressing that there is a clear regulation in this regard to determine violations and penalties.

He expects the numbers to reach 30 million Umrah pilgrims, especially after the facilities provided to those wishing to visit the two Holy Mosques and perform Umrah rituals, which included several initiatives, such as extending the Umrah season, reducing the period for issuing a visa, facilitating procedures for coming to the Kingdom, developing the registration of vital features service, in addition to uploading travel documents before arriving via the Saudi Visa Bio app.

Dr. Mashat said that these are some of the steps taken by Saudi Arabia to contribute to reducing the time of verification procedures upon arrival for Hajj and Umrah pilgrims, noting that the procedures have been implemented so far with the countries of UK, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Tunisia, and Kuwait.

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