Pakistan tops list of most Umrah pilgrims in 2019

In this photo, Pakistani Muslims wait to pass security as the first pilgrims for the annual Hajj pilgrimage arrive in Jeddah on July 24, 2017. (AFP)
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Updated 29 December 2019

Pakistan tops list of most Umrah pilgrims in 2019

  • About 495,000 Pakistanis performed Umrah between August 31 and December 26
  • Increase in the number of pilgrims owes to the facilities provided by the Saudi authorities – religious affairs ministry

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan topped the list of countries that sent maximum number of Umrah pilgrims to Saudi Arabia since the beginning of the season on August 31 until December 26, 2019, according to official statistics released by the Kingdom on Friday.

The index showed that 495,270 Pakistanis performed their Umrah during the period, followed by 443,879 Indonesians and 262,887 Indians. Other countries on the list included Malaysia, Egypt, Algeria, Turkey, Bangladesh, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan.

Pakistan’s Religious Affairs Ministry Spokesman Imran Siddiqui told Arab News on Saturday that the Saudi government had always won the hearts of the Pakistani pilgrims through exceptional hospitality.

“This number of 495,270 was achieved in four months, showing the association and passionate love of our people with the two holy mosques,” he said. “Pakistan was the number one country with more than 1.7 million people performing Umrah last year. The trend has continued this year as well, and more people are likely to visit the Kingdom to undertake this spiritual journey in the coming months, especially during Ramadan.”

The spokesperson said that one of the reasons behind the growing number of pilgrims from Pakistan was the strengthening of bilateral relations between the two countries, adding that Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan and Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had brought the two states closer together.

“The Saudi crown prince has given Pakistani pilgrims special facilities, such as the Makkah Route, and such changes have contributed to the increased number of pilgrims,” he said, noting that the Saudis had also digitized everything like visa for Umrah.

“This has reduced the cases of frauds committed by travel agents, especially when it comes to issues like accommodation. Now everything is electronic and they have to show hotel accommodation for visa. The changes have been made under Vision 2030, making things easier for the pilgrims,” Siddiqui said.

The Vision 2030 reforms plan aims to attract more than 30 million Umrah pilgrims and provide them excellent services. Last year, the Saudi Hajj and Umrah Ministry launched a weekly indicator that helps the authorities track the number of pilgrims visiting the Kingdom to enrich their spiritual experience further.


Pakistan Steel Mills workers say will challenge mass layoffs in court

Updated 2 min 25 sec ago

Pakistan Steel Mills workers say will challenge mass layoffs in court

  • PSM management argues the company’s accumulated losses reached Rs212 billion ($1.33 billion) in June
  • The termination of 4,500 contracts is believed to be the biggest layoff from a single entity in Pakistan’s history

KARACHI: Pakistan Steel Mills (PSM) employees are going to challenge in court the company’s recent decision to terminate the contracts of thousands of workers, union representatives said on Sunday.

The management of the state-owned company on Friday handed letters of termination to some 4,500 employees, arguing that PSM’s accumulated losses had reached Rs212 billion ($1.33 billion) in June, when the government decided that 9,350 workers would have to be fired for the dysfunctional enterprise to be revived.
“PSM has terminated 4,500 employees in the first phase of government’s plan to lay off 9,350 employees ... The employees have refused to accept this termination they have registered protests and have decided to challenge this decision in court next week,” Mirza Maqsood, President of Voice of Pakistan Steel Officers Association, told Arab News.

Located 40 kilometers from Karachi, Pakistan’s largest industrial complex with a steel production capacity of 1.1 million tons has been dysfunctional for the past few years. Its operations were suspended in 2015.
“Neither the Company has funds to revive the Mills nor are funds available from any other source to revive the Steel Mill. In any case, revival of the mill would require, firstly massive investment and secondly, entail a period of at least two years,” reads a PSM termination letter seen by Arab News.
The layoff was defended by federal Industries and Production Minister Hammad Azhar, who on Saturday said the terminated employees would be given compensation of Rs2.3 million on average.

“Since the closure of the mill, the government has paid around Rs35 billion as salaries and Rs20 billion as arears to the employees,” he said.

The discharge of workers is said to be one of the biggest layoffs of employees from a single government entity in the country’s history. 
 Karamat Ali, executive director at Pakistan Institute of Labor Education & Research (PILER), said the PSM layoff in unprecedented.
“No such number of employees have ever been fired from a single government institution,” he said.
The decision was also opposed by the provincial government of Sindh, which vowed to support the affected employees. 
“This is wrong and injustice. They (the federal government) must adhere to their earlier stance and commitments of turning the state institutions around with the help of their champions. I am with the employees,” Sindh Labor Minister Saeed Ghani told Arab News.
Mumrez Khan, convener of a representative body of employees, pensioners, suppliers, dealers and contractors of PSM, said that no serious efforts have been made by the federal government to revive the mill, claiming that negligence had caused losses even higher than those cited by PSM management.

“The accumulated losses have swelled to $12 billion on the account of closure of plants, revenue to the government and imports of steel products,” he said.