By Hassan Haruna Ginsau
Body scanners equipped with infrared technology will be used by Saudi Arabia in Hajj operations from 2015, replacing the conventional method of immigration desk clearances at the Kingdom’s King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah.
Pilgrims will have their biometric data recorded in Nigeria during the visa application process, upon arrival in the Holy land, infrared body scanners will then confirm pilgrims’ biometrics, hence making it unnecessary for long immigration checks on arrival at the Holy land.
The Saudi Ambassador to Nigeria H.E Fouad Rajeh revealed this to Peoples Daily during a courtesy visit to the embassy yesterday.
“In a bid to make the Hajj process more convenient for pilgrims, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is carrying out a massive scale revamp of the Masjid al-Haram mosque in Makkah, the Masjid an-Nabawi in Madinah, transportation systems, and other facilities.
60,000 labourers are working day and night to meet the 2015 deadline of the $35 billion expansion of the Holy Mosque in Makkah” the envoy said.
The Mosque, he said, will accommodate four million worshippers at any given time as opposed to the 2.5 million it currently holds. Also, the Madinah mosque, he noted, after expansion will accommodate 3 million worshippers, it currently holds 1.5 million. The ambassador further said that transportation networks will also be given a face-lift with the introduction of a new rail system which will halve the 5 hour drive from Jeddah to Madinah to 2 and a half hours by train. Also, the trip from Jiddah to Makkah will be reduced to 25 minutes.
In a bid to ease pilgrims’ stay during the Hajj period, the kingdom will employ 45,000 cleaners, 1.5 million food workers, totalling a number of 3 workers for every pilgrim.
Though some Saudis have criticised authorities for the demolition of historic sites in the process of expansion, Saudi authorities insist that the colossal expansion of both Makkah and Madinah is essential to make a way for the growing numbers of pilgrims.
Both Makkah and Madinah host 12 million visiting pilgrims each year and this number is expected to increase to 17 million by 2025.