No Haj for Indian pilgrims in 2020
Saudi Arabia will allow only a limited number of its citizens and foreigners already in the country to perform the Haj pilgrimage this year because of the Covid-19 pandemic and risk of infections spreading in large gatherings.
In a statement issued on Monday, Saudi Arabia’s ministry of Haj said a “very limited number” of pilgrims of various nationalities who already reside in the country will be able to perform the Haj since the pandemic has spread to more than 180 countries and there is no vaccination or a cure for Covid-19.
This means no foreigners will be allowed into the country for the pilgrimage.
“The decision was taken to ensure Haj is performed in a safe manner from a public health perspective while observing all preventative measures and the necessary social distancing protocols to protect human beings from the risks associated with this pandemic and in accordance with the teachings of Islam in preserving the lives of human beings,” the statement said.
It added that this decision “stems from the top priority [the Saudi government] accords [to] maintaining the safety of pilgrims on its land until they depart to their home countries”.
There had been widespread speculation that Saudi Arabia could put off this year’s pilgrimage because of the Covid-19 crisis – the first time such a step would have been taken in history. The country had earlier suspended the entry of Umrah pilgrims.
Saudi Arabia has registered 161,000 Covid-19 cases and 1,307 deaths. More than 105,000 people have recovered. Saudi authorities do not release data on infections among expatriates, though hundreds of Indians have been infected and 17 had died till April. Saudi Arabia is home to nearly 3 million Indians.
In New Delhi, union minority affairs minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said he had been informed of the Saudi decision by Haj minister Mohammad Saleh bin Taher Benten. Naqvi said fees collected for applications from more than 213,000 pilgrims will be returned without cancellation deductions through direct transfer.
He tweeted, “The process has been started today to immediately refund full amount of money deposited by the applicants without any deduction. The money will be refunded through online DBT mode into bank accounts of the applicants.”
In 2019, Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman accepted the Indian government’s request to increase the country’s Haj quota from 170,000 to 200,000. Of the 200,000 Indians who performed the Haj last year, 140,000 went through the state-run Haj committee.
In 2018, the Indian government got permission from Saudi authorities for single woman to perform the pilgrimage without a male escort. Naqvi tweeted 3,040 Indian women had done the Haj without a male escort since then. He said this practice will continue when the pilgrimage resumes.