JEDDAH - Saudi Arabia has announced to cut the number of foreign pilgrims arriving for Umrah during the peak Ramazan season to ensure their number would not exceed 500,000 a day in Makkah and Madina.

Haj Minister Bandar Hajjar also announced that issuance of Umrah visas would be stopped by mid-Ramazan. Both measures are aimed at avoiding congestion at the Grand Mosque in Makkah where expansion work is in progress.  The early announcement would enable Umrah service providers in Saudi Arabia and foreign countries to plan their programs accordingly.  Speaking to reporters, Hajjar said the percentage of Umrah pilgrims who overstayed their visas was on the decrease as a result of efforts made by authorities. Only 0.1 percent of pilgrims failed to leave the Kingdom during the last season, said Hajjar.  He also launched an integrated bus transport system for Umrah pilgrims at his office in Jeddah on Saturday. An integrated electronic system, which has been implemented by the Haj Ministry, was instrumental in tracking pilgrims, he pointed out.

The minister also said that a penalty system would be drafted for airlines who would fail to ensure that pilgrims scheduled for departure on their flights were flown out.  "We are coordinating with the General Authority of Civil Aviation to headcount departing pilgrims at the airport ahead of schedule," he said. Pilgrim data will be relayed to GACA as departing pilgrims begin their journey back home.

Hajjar said a link was being developed between the ministry and Umrah companies for more effective tracking of pilgrims.

Meanwhile, more than 800,000 stranded Pakistani labourers have finally been granted legal respite by Saudi government, while thousands are still awaiting the government's relief.  Sources cognizant of the situation have said after its coordination with relevant Saudi departments and institutions, the Pakistani embassy in Riyadh and its consulate in Jeddah have managed to bring this 800,000 Pakistani workforce in legal ambits.

Documents reveal that expats had been advised to make their stay legal and documented within six-month period, change their occupation or sponsor. As per information received by Online regarding new Saudi regulations, it was compulsory for all labourers to have its sponsors and occupation. Any such grace period given for this facility expired on November 3, a last chance for all those staying in Saudi Arabia illegally.

Many Pakistanis failed to avail the facility due to their fear of being exposed as illegal residents and be punished by law. Documents also reveal Saudi cabinet's March 18 decision to declare all stays sans visa as illegal. Arrests have been started against all such illegal stays, after which Pakistani government had requested the Saudi government to refrain from arrests, since these would create a sense of insecurity among expats, while also releasing all those arrested.

Pakistani beheaded in KSA on drug trafficking charge: Saudi authorities beheaded a Pakistani citizen on Sunday after he was convicted of smuggling drugs into the Gulf state, the interior ministry said.

Mohammed Zayer Khan Qol was arrested as he was "smuggling a large amount of heroin" into the Kingdom, said the statement published by the official SPA news agency.  His beheading in the western region of Mecca brings to 73 the number of executions carried out in Saudi Arabia this year, according to an AFP count. 

In 2012, the Saudis carried out 76 executions, according to a tally based on official figures. Human Rights Watch put the number at 69. Rape, murder, apostasy, armed robbery and drug trafficking are all punishable by death under the oil-rich nation's strict version of Sharia or Islamic law.