The first group of this year (2014) Sri Lankan Haj pilgrims arrived in Jeddah on a Saudi Arabian Airlines flight on Sunday (Sep. 7).
Accordingly, 48 persons arrived in Jeddah on a Saudi Arabian Airlines flight.
The island’s national carrier, SriLankan Airlines, also brought in another group of pilgrims on the same day.
Sri Lanka's Ambassador Mohammed Hussein Mohamed, Consul General Adam Bawa Uthumalebbe and senior diplomats from the country's missions in Riyadh and Jeddah were present to welcome the arriving pilgrims.
“Last year, we had 3,200 pilgrims, but the Haj quota was reduced by 20 percent this year because of ongoing development work in Makkah,” Ambassador Hussein Mohamed said. Two months ago, senior minister in charge of Sri Lankan Haj operations Abdul Hameed Mohamed Fowzie signed the Haj agreement with Haj Minister Bandar Hajjar in Jeddah, the envoy said.
In Colombo, Minister Fowzie was present to see off pilgrims at the Bandaranaike International Airport on Sunday morning.
Speaking to Arab News from Colombo, Fowzie said Sri Lankan pilgrims will be provided with the best of services both in Makkah and Madinah during their pilgrimage.
“With the help of the Saudi Government, we have also introduced new software in our system to streamline all our Haj activities,” he said, pointing out that the pilgrims’ movements will be carefully monitored and that travel agents will be held responsible for anything untoward happening to the pilgrims.
Minister Fowzie said this year; the first timers were given preference in the selection of pilgrims.
“I have also stipulated the minimum cost for each pilgrim, who should include airfare, accommodation and internal travel,” Fowzie said, warning that any travel operator who tries to exploit the pilgrims will be severely dealt with.
Around seven percent of the country’s 20.2 million inhabitants are Muslim. “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,” Uthumalebbe said, adding that the embassy in Riyadh and its consulate in Jeddah have geared up their staff to serve the pilgrims to the best of their ability.
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 until they leave for the holy cities.
He added that his mission had formed three teams in Makkah, Jeddah, Minah and Madinah to assist the pilgrims.
In addition to the mission’s staff, the diplomat said he had solicited the cooperation of volunteers, who would help the pilgrims in Makkah, Madinah and at the Haj Terminal.
He said a medical team will also arrive with the pilgrims to look after their health needs.