The Passport Office has begun processing biometric passports for Muslims in the three northern regions, who will undertake this year’s Hajj to Saudi Arabia.
The application process has been decentralised to ensure that all prospective pilgrims are captured before the end of October.
About 420 prospective pilgrims from the Northern and Upper East regions gathered in Tamale yesterday to process their applications when the mobile data capturing team made its first stop there.
Officials of the Foreign Ministry said they were capturing the bio-data, fingerprints, pictures, signatures and other details of the participants and cautioned that the process was solely limited to prospective Hajj pilgrims for this year.
They again noted the application process in Tamale would last for only two days, after which the team would move to Wa and Kumasi to capture other prospective pilgrims in those areas, adding that fee process would continue until October 15, 2010.
In an interview, Alhaji Yakubu Ayana, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Ayana Travel and Tours, commended the government for decentralising the registration process.
“This would ensure that our people are given the biometric passports in time before they embark on the Hajj,” he stated.
Alhaji Ayana said information available to him indicated that a small aircraft would be dispatched to Tamale to airlift the pilgrims to Accra by the end of October.
“Immediately they land in Accra, they would board a larger airline to Madina in Saudi Arabia to begin the Hajj process,” he promised.
The Hajj agent said he was, particularly, happy about the improvement in the arrangements made by the government since that would ease the suffering that those in the three northern regions usually went through whenever they wanted to go for the Hajj.
“Pilgrims from the North usually account for more than half of the total number of pilgrims who leave the country for Hajj, so this is a welcome news for them,” he stated.
Officials of the Hajj Board were, however, not present at the time of filing the report.
About 700 passports for prospective pilgrims are expected to be processed in the Northern Region before officials move to the other regions to continue with the processing of passports.
The Chairman of the National Hajj Committee (NHC), Alhaji Alhasan Bene, told the Daily Graphic in Accra that the move would save the would-be pilgrims for this year’s Hajj the ordeal of having to travel to Accra for their pictures and fingerprints to be taken for the biometric passports.
He said officials of the Passport Office had indicated that all the prospective pilgrims in each of the regions would be gathered at a centre for their pictures and fingerprints to be taken.
He, therefore, charged would-be pilgrims outside Accra to make it a point to converge at the centres to process their passports.
Meanwhile, Alhaji Bene has said the NHC has struck a deal with Egypt Air to lift about 2,700 Ghanaian Muslim pilgrims to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Egypt Air is to embark on nine flights with the first batch of pilgrims expected to leave on October 25, 2010.
Alhaji Bene said the pilgrims would be flown direct to Madina, where they would have the privilege of praying in Prophet Mohammed’s mosque for three days before moving to Mecca and stay for some days before the start of the Hajj rites.
He said the NHC had already secured accommodation for pilgrims in Madina and Mecca.
He indicated that air-conditioned tents would be mounted at the Hajj Village a few days before the departure.
Alhaji Bene denied claims that the $3,100 Hajj fare would be reduced to between $1,500 and $2,000.
He said the deadline for the payment of the Hajj fare was October 15, 2010, and asked prospective pilgrims to pay before the deadline because it would not be extended.
Source: Daily Graphic