Saudi Arabia is planning to triple the number of Umrah visas issued each year to 15 million, according to local media. From next year, 1.25 million pilgrims could be allowed to visit the Grand Mosque each month, compared to 400,000 presently.
Haj Minister Bandar Al Hajjar was quoted as saying that the increased numbers were to make use of the newly expanded Grand Mosque, which is undergoing a $20 billion refurbishment. Umrah and haj visas were cut in 2014 and 2015 during construction, which is still ongoing.
According to the Haj Ministry, five million Umrah visas were issued in 2013 and six million each during 2014 and 2015. It expects to issue up to 60 million by 2018. About 1.8 million foreign pilgrims recently descended on the Islamic holy city of Makkah for haj, an annual pilgrimage Muslims are expected to perform in their lifetime.
This year’s religious gather was marred by one of the worst stampedes in Saudi history. Saudi authorities said 769 people died, but figures compiled by Associated Press put the number at 1399, while several governments also disputed the official Saudi figure.
Source: Arabian Business