RAWALPINDI: For the first time, Saudi immigration staff conducted immigration process of 368 Pakistani pilgrims at Islamabad International Airport (IIA) under the Road to Makkah project as the Haj flight operation from Pakistan started on Thursday.

Before going through the immigration process, the pilgrims were also administered polio drops.

The pilgrims were seen off by Minister for Aviation Ghulam Sarwar Khan, Saudi Ambassador Nawaf Bin Said Al Malki and Minister for Religious Affairs Pir Noorul Haq Qadri.

Ghulam Sarwar said Prime Minister Imran Khan played an important role by requesting the Saudi crown prince to get Pakistan included in the Road to Makkah project to facilitate the pilgrims.

He said this year 22,000 Pakistani pilgrims would avail of the pre-departure immigration facility.

Pakistan was included in the project during Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s visit to Islamabad in February.

Under the project, pilgrims traveling from Pakistan would be able to clear immigration at Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore and Peshawar though the facility has started at the IIA only.

A Saudi immigration team arrived in Islamabad earlier in the week and set up special immigration counters at the airport.

The first flight of Saudi Airlines (SV-3719) with the 368 pilgrims on board took off for Madina at 11am on Thursday. Prime Minister Imran Khan is expected to formally inaugurate the Road to Makkah project at the IIA on the occasion of the departure of first PIA Haj flight on Friday.

Published in Dawn, July 5th, 2019