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Finger prints made compulsory for Umrah pilgrims

Before proceeding for the holy journey , all the Umrah pilgrims from Pakistan will be fingerprinted from next month, sources in Ministry of Religious Affairs disclose to The Nation on Monday.The travelers would also be charged a fee for the process, the amount of which has not been decided so far.

The move has been seen by Travel Agents Association of Pakistan (TAAP) with distress and its office bearers have given a wakeup call to their members against the decision. They said the decision will not only put the security of the country at stake but also double the miseries of the pilgrims .

A former senior office-bearer of the TAAP, said the firm supposed to operate for fingerprint was Dubai based and one of its directors was an Indian national so Pakistan cannot share the data of its citizens with such firm. He said that after their protest the decision was suspended by the authorities but now after two years it was being implemented again.

In this regard Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Islamabad has issued a letter to Ministry of Religious Affairs Islamabad and Haj and Umrah Travel Agencies .According to the letter, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Riyadh has directed to activate the Biometric Registration for all visas, including those for Haj and Umrah. For this purpose “VFS/Tasheel” company has been assigned to work beside travel agencies of Haj and Umrah.

Etimad Pakistan will control the processing of visa applications for Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA). Every person who requiring a visa to enter KSA from Pakistan (whether for Haj, Umrah, business, work or any other purpose) will have to come to Etimad Visa Service Centers (VSC) in Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad, Peshawar and Quetta to provide biometrics data which is now a mandatory part of their visa application.

Currently there are 6 centres in Pakistan: two in Karachi and one each in Lahore, Islamabad, Peshawar and Quetta. These centres will collectively process more than 1.2million visa applications per year. But TAAP statistics shows that last year 1.5 millions pilgrims visited Saudi Arabia to perform Umrah and 1.85 lacs performed Haj.

TAAP is not perfect currently since its last election in Lahore was challenged in Lahore High Court but even then some office-bearers are trying to organize the members to react over the issue.