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First Hajj flight leaves Kabul

AT Monitoring Desk-KABUL: Minister of Hajj and Religious Affairs on Friday said that first flight carrying pilgrims from Kabul has safely landed in Medina City of Saudi Arabia.

Faiz Mohammad Osmani told media the first flight left Hamid Karzai International Airport on Thursday night. The second flight left on Friday morning.

The minister said that 24,250 Afghans would be going to Saudi Arabia to perform Hajj this year.

“Afghan government has rented 21 buildings in Mecca and Medina. The buildings are enough to accommodate all the Afghan pilgrims. Good quality services will be provided to the pilgrims during their stay,” he said.

He further said the religious affairs ministry had taken all necessary measures to resolve problems of the pilgrims and facilitate them.

Osmani said that President Ashraf Ghani would closely monitor the situation in the next four weeks to make sure the pilgrims had no grievances.

“The ministry had removed all the shortcomings. We tried our best to provide good services to Afghan pilgrims in Saudi Arabia. Residences are close to the worship places. For the first time, the ministry has signed contracts with two largest catering companies of the world so Afghan pilgrims will have face no problem,” he said.

He went on to say that Hajj flights from Kabul would carry 13,000 pilgrims and the remaining will be flown from other zones. Afghanistan will have to fly all its pilgrims in 23 days. The ministry has cut costs for Hajj this year by $10 million.

The amount has been saved in airfare, food and accommodation in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Faiz Mohammad Osmani said last month, adding that $7 million have been saved in round trip tickets and $3 million in food and stay facilities in the kingdom.

He said that a delegation of the ministry has visited Saudi Arabia and resolved the challenges that were faced by Afghan pilgrims in the past.

“Along with 13 other officials, I visited Saudi Arabia for 30 days. We tried to spot the problems faced by Afghans. After finding the challenges, we signed several agreements with private companies to provide facilities to Afghan pilgrims including standard accommodation and food,” he said.

The ministry remained successful in finding accommodation for 24,000 pilgrims near Makkah.

Regarding provision of food, the minister said that based on the contract the restaurant would provide different types of cooked food including Afghani dishes, from the first day up to the end of their pilgrimage journey. Afghan pilgrims will receive three times food parcels a day, only in Makkah.

He added that according to the contracts, the Afghan pilgrims would not bring Zamzam water with them, but the company that signed the contract would cargo it to Hamid Karzai International Airport.

Regarding airfare, he said that last year the cost of each round-trip ticket was $2,700 while this year the airfare has been reduced to $2,450. He said that Ariana Afghan Airlines would transport the pilgrims to Saudi Arabia.

According to him, this year 12,000 Afghan pilgrims would land in Madina‏ and 12,000 others in Jeddah. They will return to Kabul at the same way.

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