Indonesia sends biggest number of pilgrims in history

3,500 staffers dispatched to serve 221,000 Hajis

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Saudi Gazette

JEDDAH – As many as 221,000 Indonesians are performing Haj this year and this is the highest number of pilgrims coming ever for Haj from a foreign country, according to Indonesian Consul General Mohamad Hery Saripudin. In an exclusive interview with Saudi Gazette, Saripudin said Jakarta is sending 3,500 staffers, including 1,800 doctors and paramedics, to serve the pilgrims and 104-year-old Baiq Mariah is the oldest among the pilgrims. He said that the pilgrims included even those who wait for getting a chance for the lifetime spiritual journey since 40 years, and the number of intending pilgrims on the waiting list is around 2.5 million. The pilgrims who arrived this year are mainly those who had completed registration process in 2011.

Saripudin urged the Saudi authorities to increase the quota so as to reduce the number of people in waiting. “There has been an increase of over 50,000 in the number of pilgrims this year compared to 2016 during which 168,000 Indonesians performed Haj. Apart from the quota of 210,000, we managed to get an additional quota of 10,000 pilgrims this year,” he said while thanking the Saudi authorities for this gesture. Of the total pilgrims, 204,000 would come under the Regular Haj Mechanism run and organized by the government and 17,000 by special pilgrims system managed by private tour operators. A total of 102,000 pilgrims landed in Madinah during the period from July 28 to Aug. 11. Flights to Jeddah started from Aug. 12 and would continue until Aug. 27. As of Thursday, a total of 185,835 pilgrims and 2,342 Haj service officers landed in the holy cities. Garuda Indonesia, the national carrier, and Saudi Arabian Airlines are transporting 50 percent of the pilgrims each.

According to Saripudin, there has been a qualitative leap in the facilities and services being rendered to pilgrims, especially regarding to accommodation and transportation. “In Madinah, 95 percent of pilgrims have been allotted accommodation in the central Haram area (Markaziyah). In Makkah, we rented as many as 155 hotels in six localities -Jarwal, Misfalah, Shisha, Rawdah, Mahabis and Aziziyah; and the majority of pilgrims are staying in Aziziyah. There are shuttle bus services (Salawat) from accommodation in Aziziyah to Haram and vice versa on a round the clock basis.

Saripudin, who took over as consul general in October 2016 after serving the nation at UN headquarters in New York, expressed happiness over the highly upgraded transportation facilities for this year’s Haj. “It is extremely gratifying to note that we managed to arrange excellent transportation facilities and services. We are not using any buses older than four years and pilgrims are very happy over the comfort in their travel from Madinah and Jeddah to Makkah as well as the shuttle services between Makkah and Aziziyah,” he said, adding that six companies were hired to transport pilgrims from Madinah to Makkah and two companies, including SAPTCO, for Makkah Salawat services.

The consul general said that the Haj mission has employed GPS to track Salawat buses in order to avoid any laxity on the part of drivers in keeping their schedule. “We have also made available of an app on smart phone of the staffers serving the pilgrims to know whether they are promptly carrying out their assigned duty,” he said while thanking the Saudi authorities for introducing e-path, e-bracelet and other high tech facilities and services in serving the pilgrims.

“E-bracelet is very helpful especially for those pilgrims who are suffering from health problems. Our smart Haj application contains key information about important places for the pilgrims such as hospitals, Haj mission branch offices, mutawwif’s office etc.

Saripudin also spoke about the successful implementation of the plan to serve food at the pilgrims’ lodgings. “We have concluded special contracts with catering firms in Makkah and Madinah. They distribute traditional food among the pilgrims. We hired nutritionists to ensure quality and standard of food.”

He said that there are six catering companies in Madinah and more than six in Makkah. Up till Sunday, 53 death cases were reported among the pilgrims, of which 52 were natural deaths and one is accident death. There are 151 inpatients in hospitals in Makkah and 30 in Madinah. There are a number of clinics in Makkah and Madinah to serve the pilgrims, with bed facilities at the main clinic, which is attached to the Haj mission in Aziziyah.

The consul general expressed satisfaction over the mission’s overall Haj operation and the great support from the Saudi authorities. “So far we did not have any major problems and complaints, thanks to the close coordination and cooperation among various agencies and departments associated with the Haj operation.”

“We are keen to further upgrade and improve the facilities and services. Compared to last year, we face some challenges especially due to the large number of pilgrims,” he said, adding that there have been ‘serious efforts on the part of our colleagues back home to make aware to the pilgrims about the dos and don’ts in an extensive manner.’


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