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How Pakistan’s economic crisis has derailed Haj pilgrimage this year

Pakistanis heading for annual Haj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia

Jeddah: The economic crisis in Pakistan is adversely impacting prospective Haj pilgrims. Fewer Pakistanis are heading for the annual pilgrimage this year because of the acute shortage of forex in the country.

With forex reserves dropping, the Pakistani government had sought support from the compatriots abroad. But that too has not worked as overseas Pakistanis have given a lukewarm response to the government’s scheme.

Under Pakistan’s Haj Policy 2023, the government had decided that funds for the Haj quota of 179,210 would be generated by a scheme where the government and private sources would contribute equal amounts.

Under the regular Haj scheme, about 89,605 pilgrims were to perform the pilgrimage. In order to reduce the burden on foreign exchange market, the government set aside 44,802 applicants who had to be financed through funds generated abroad.

It was hoped that overseas Pakistanis would aid their loved ones back home by remitting the Haj cost in US dollars. However, the policy has received a poor response. Only less than 8,000 applicants against a government target of 44,802 mustered funding from abroad.

On account of the poor response from its diaspora, Pakistan failed to generate $ 194 million from abroad to finance the Haj expenses.

The Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) of the cabinet in Pakistan had been informed in March that the sponsorship scheme of the government’s Haj quota would generate about $194 million and the private Haj scheme would fetch more than $250 million, depending on the cost of packages and applications received, taking the total outsourced funds to $444 million.

The sponsorship scheme was expected to secure foreign exchange cover for the regular scheme as well.

Due to its inability in securing the required funds, Pakistan has decided to surrender 10% of the government’s Haj quota to Saudi Arabia, according to reports from Islamabad. As a result, nearly 8,800 pilgrims from the government quota are likely to be deprived of the Haj this year.

Surrendering any fraction of allocated quota back to Saudi Arabia by any country is rare. In fact, Pakistan was foremost demanding to increase its annual Haj quota with its overall population including PoK.

It is noteworthy that this is the first time Saudi Arabia would be welcoming more than two million pilgrims across the globe, now that the pandemic restrictions have been lifted.

Also, there is an increase in the Haj expenses by nearly 70 %. The cost of the Haj for 2023 is Rs. 1.175 million for the north region and for the south region it has fixed the cost at Rs. 1.165 million. The surge is 68% or Rs475,000 higher than the previous fiscal year.

Also Read: 4,000 Indian women apply for Haj travel as first flight to take off for Jeddah on May 21

(Irfan Mohammed a journalist based in Jeddah who writes for India Narrative)