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Dhaka: Bangladesh has ended its special Haj flight operations, with the last group of pilgrims departing Dhaka on Saturday joining the tens of thousands who have already arrived in the kingdom.

Bangladeshis are among the 2 million Muslims who flock to Mecca and Medina for the biggest Haj pilgrimage in years. The number of pilgrims is expected to double last year’s numbers, when travel restrictions were still in place following the coronavirus pandemic.

More than 1.6 million people have already arrived from abroad to perform the Hajj rituals next week, according to data from the Saudi Arabian General Directorate of Passports. Of those, nearly 240,000 traveled under the Mecca Route Initiative – a flagship program launched by the Kingdom in 2019.

The Mecca route allows pilgrims to complete all visa, customs and health requirements at the airport, saving them long waits. Upon arrival, pilgrims can enter Saudi Arabia and head back home having already gone through the visa and customs processes.

Bangladesh is among seven Muslim-majority countries — including Pakistan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Morocco, Turkey and Cote d’Ivoire — where Saudi Arabia launched the program.

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More than 1.6 million people have already arrived from abroad to perform the Hajj rituals next week, according to data from the Saudi Arabian General Directorate of Passports.

„The Makkah route project has made the journey of pilgrims much smoother,” Kazi Mohammad Murad Alam, head of IT operations at the Hajj office in Dhaka, told Arab News.

„With the departure of today’s last flight from Dhaka, a total of 122,558 Bangladeshi pilgrims will perform the holy Hajj this year … Everything is fine in our decision in terms of Hajj flights, visas etc.”

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All pilgrims departing from Dhaka have been assisted by Saudi immigration authorities since the start of Hajj flights at the end of May.

“The authorities of the Kingdom are working round the clock to facilitate the processes for the pilgrims. It is a mammoth task,” said Alam.

„We are truly grateful to the Kingdom’s authorities for the smooth management of these Hajj activities.”

Mahbubul Alam, a 64-year-old pilgrim leaving Dhaka on Saturday, said the immigration process took him only a minute.

“It really helped me focus on the Hajj rituals. Good health and sound mind are required to perform all Haj rituals,” he told Arab News while waiting to board his flight.

“After completing pre-immigration, I felt a kind of peace in my soul. I hope that Allah will fulfill my prayer in this journey,” he said.

Rogiya Begum, 53, from South Khulna district, was on the plane with her husband, her first time traveling outside Bangladesh.

“Everything seems very quiet and peaceful at the airport. It is a peaceful environment. The Saudi immigration officials working here are very kind and helpful. They all treat us as very special guests,” he said.

“Hopefully everything will be fine after landing in the kingdom. I pray for the well-being of my family, friends and countrymen and the people of Saudi Arabia who host Muslims around the world in fulfilling one of the duties of Islam.

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