The first batch of Filipino pilgrims have arrived in Saudi Arabia to embark on the 2023 Hajj, the Philippine Embassy in Riyadh announced Sunday.
The group, composed of 292 men and women, landed at the Prince Mohammed bin Abdulaziz International Airport in Madinah on June 3 via a Philippine Airlines flight.
Citing the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF), the Embassy said over 7,200 Filipinos are expected to join this year’s Hajj, an important pilgrimage to Mecca that Muslims must perform once in their lifetime.
The embassy emphasized its readiness to assist the traveling Muslim Filipinos throughout their visit, especially as pilgrims in the Kingdom are expected to encounter challenges due to unfavorable weather conditions during the Hajj, which will commence between June 26 and July 1.
The Philippine Missions in Saudi Arabia, with support from the Department of Foreign Affairs, have also deployed Hajj assistance teams to help ensure the safety and security of Filipino pilgrims while in the Kingdom.
Embassy Chargé d’Affaires Rommel Romato, who welcomed the pilgrims, expressed appreciation to the Saudi government for its initiatives to enhance the experience of pilgrims visiting the Two Holy Mosques.
“Millions of pilgrims, including those from the Philippines, will benefit from innovations such as automation of Hajj services and the Makkah Route initiative among others,” he said.
Once the Philippines is included in the Makkah Route initiative, the Embassy said pilgrims would also be able to complete Saudi’s immigration procedures before departing for the Kingdom.
According to NCMF, the majority of the Muslim Filipino pilgrims embarking on Hajj come from Lanao, Zamboanga, Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, and Cotabato.
This year, around two million international pilgrims are expected to participate as Saudi Arabia approves full capacity for Hajj 2023 following the easing of coronavirus restrictions.
Saudia Arabia’s Ministry of Health requires worshipers from all countries to have two primary vaccination doses and one booster shot against Covid-19.
Immunization against influenza and meningitis is likewise mandatory. The approved Covid-19 vaccines in Saudi Arabia are Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Covovax, Nuvaxovid, Sinophram, Sinovac, Covaxin, Sputnik-V, and Janssen (1 shot).