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Sun 8 Jan 2017 02:00 PM

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Saudi Arabia moves to increase pilgrim numbers after '10-year low'

Quotas restored following cut to enable expansion of the Grand Mosque in Makkah

Saudi Arabia moves to increase pilgrim numbers after '10-year low'
(Ahmad Gharabli/AFP/Getty Images)

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman has approved plans to increase the number of pilgrims, after the figure hit a reported 10-year low in 2016.

Five years ago, authorities cut the quota for foreign pilgrims by 20 percent and for domestic pilgrims by 50 percent, to ensure safety during the expansion of the Grand Mosque in Makkah.

According to Saudi Gazette, a total of 1,862,909 foreign and domestic pilgrims performed Haj in 2016. This was the lowest number of pilgrims recorded in the last 10 years.

Around 136,000 Indian pilgrims came to the kingdom to perform Haj last year, down from 170,000 in 2012.

However, the King on Thursday approved plans to gradually restore the original quotas. The exact figures are to be announced following a ministerial meeting later this month, local media said.

Further meetings with heads of Haj ministries across the world have been scheduled to discuss preparations for Haj 2017.

The news comes as Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Haj and Umrah issues new rules intended to protect the rights of pilgrims.

A document published on the ministry’s website at the weekend notes that pilgrims are entitled to safety and comfort while carrying out their rituals, as well as transportation, food, luggage delivery, confirmation of bookings and alternative air tickets in case originals are lost.

The document added that the ministry seeks to protect pilgrims’ rights through communication centres that refers pilgrims’ complaints to a dedicated committee.

Any Haj services company that provides “substandard services” will either be fined, suspended from operating for a period of time, and/or have its license revoked, the ministry added.

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