A senior official from the Sri Lanka Haj Committee visiting the Kingdom has said Colombo would send more pilgrims this year after the country’s government reduced pilgrimage costs, Arab news said.
“Each pilgrim in the island was charged more than Rs500,000 for the journey. Now the new Haj committee has reduced it to Rs325,000 so more pilgrims from the lower middle classes could participate in the pilgrimage,” Azath Salley told Arab News.
Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa heads the new Haj Committee.
The first batch of 420 Sri Lankan pilgrims will arrive in the Kingdom on a Saudi Arabian Airlines flight from Colombo on Friday. “This will be the first group out of a total of 5,600 pilgrims, “ Salley said.
Last year, Sri Lanka sent only 4,500 pilgrims, even though the quota was increased to 5,800.
Salley said he had talks with Haj officials and is satisfied with the arrangements made by the Saudi authorities.
He pointed out that he had formed a special team to look after the interests of Sri Lankan pilgrims.
The group is composed of 15 volunteers, officials from the Department of Islamic Affairs in Colombo and all Muslim officers in the Sri Lankan Consulate in Jeddah. A medical team will also join the Sri Lankan pilgrims.
Salley attended a meeting of Haj volunteers at the Sri Lankan Consulate in Jeddah on Monday.
“We are thankful to officials from the Saudi Embassy in Colombo for the cooperation they extend every year in facilitating the quick issuance of visas to the pilgrims,” he said.
This year, he said, the whole pilgrimage process has been streamlined based on past experience. The new Haj committee will give preference to applicants who want to perform Haj for the first time.