The Ministry of Hajj and Religious Affairs said that all Afghan Hajj pilgrims have arrived safely in Saudi Arabia ahead of next week’s deadline set by the ministry.
This year nearly $10 million USD was saved on the total cost of the trip to Mecca and Medina – two holy cities in Saudi Arabia where Muslims perform annual religious rituals. Compared to previous years, Afghan pilgrims have better facilities than many other nations, said the officials at the Hajj Ministry.
“We have heard this year the facilities are good and three meals a day are being provided. We are happy with this – it is well organized,” a resident of southern Kandahar province said.
The last of over 24,000 pilgrims left Kabul for Saudi Arabia on Tuesday.
Last year, the cost for Hajj was higher – almost $2,700 USD for each pilgrim – but this year it cost only $2,450 USD, officials added.
“This is an achievement for us and three things were very important for us which were the rate, facilities and implementation of the operation plan for pilgrims who went directly to Medina,” Deputy Hajj Minister Daiulhaq Abid said.
Reduction in Hajj costs also included the decrease in airfare charges, from $1,320 USD to $1,045 USD per ticket.
Meanwhile during the last week of transporting pilgrims, Ariana Airlines of Afghanistan chartered Nigerian and Egyptian planes to move Afghan pilgrims.
“The aircrafts that we chartered were no different, only their costs were slightly higher because it is normal in such situations,” head of Ariana Airlines Mohammad Dawood Sharifi said.
“We have already had the approval of a [joint] special committee from several organizations.”
This year, Saudi Arabia had asked for new aircrafts to transport pilgrims, due to which, Ariana Airlines had to charter planes.
The Afghan officials said however that the government’s plan this year was to provide better facilities for Afghan pilgrims – who had faced numerous problems during Hajj in the past.
“I was a member of the board of directors and no personal decision was taken. My job as a representative of the president in this process was to only work for the pilgrims,” President Ashraf Ghani’s advisor Dawood Sultanzoy said. “We successfully saved 21,000 Afs for each pilgrim and the flights were safe.”