Wednesday, July 4, 2018
JEDDAH – Muslims in Thailand will be able to use a mobile phone application to register for Haj in 2019. Arthit Boonyasophat, Director General of Provincial Administration in the Ministry of Interior and Secretary General of the Haj Affairs Promotion Committee of Thailand, told Saudi Gazette that the mobile phone app would be launched this year for the convenience of those who wish to perform Haj next year. Currently, Thai Muslims can register for Haj with a Haj operator company or by visiting the district office in their area. The new mobile app will provide a third, ultra-convenient means for Haj registration.
Director General Arthit said that this was one of the first steps to be taken by the Ministry of Interior to make it easier for Thai Muslims to perform Haj. He explained that in 2016 the Thai government amended the Haj Affairs Promotion Act of 1981 transferring responsibility for Haj affairs from the Ministry of Culture to the Ministry of Interior. The director general made these statements during an interview with Saudi Gazette in Bangkok.
When asked the reason for this transfer, he said: “The Ministry of Interior has a strong domestic presence and mechanism at every level of the country. There is a ministry official in every province, district, sub-district and village in Thailand. This enables the ministry to facilitate the procedures for Thai Muslims, most of whom live in the south of the country, to perform Haj.”
As a result of the transfer, this year’s Haj is the first totally supervised by the Thai Ministry of Interior, as they took over from the Ministry of Culture in the middle of last year.
The Director General pointed out that the Ministry of Interior knows the name and location of each person who has registered for Haj. The ministry forwards this information to the relevant district officer. The district medical officer provides health information to each registered person in his district either individually or in a group. He then refers those who may have health problems to a doctor to determine if they are physically capable of performing Haj.
Registrants are also given an orientation regarding possible health issues that may arise while performing Haj. They also attend an orientation, which covers cultural and administrative issues, as well as guidance from senior Islamic officials on how to perform Haj.
Director General Arthit said that all information about pilgrims is entered in the ministry’s computers so that at a glance it can be seen that someone has registered with a particular Haj operator company, has seen a district medical officer or doctor, has attended an orientation and has been certified as physically capable of performing Haj.
He added that another job of the Ministry of Interior is to supervise the nearly one hundred Haj operator companies. He said: “There is a need to determine if they are following regulations and if it is necessary to suspend or cancel the licenses of any who are found guilty of violations.”
Over the past few years, there has been a decrease in the worldwide price of rubber, which is one of the main products of farmers in the south of Thailand. Coupled with the fact that 70 percent of Thai pilgrims come from this region, it is not surprising that there has been a corresponding decrease in the number of Thai pilgrims. The Director General said that this year it is expected that 7,704 Thai Muslims will perform Haj, down from 8,831 who undertook the journey in 2017.
He added that in Saudi Arabia there will be about 130 staff representing the Thai Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Health and other agencies who will provide assistance and support for Thai pilgrims. Many of these officials have already visited Makkah and Madinah to make advance preparations.
Director General Arthit pointed out that each year about 200 Muslims in the Thai South have all of their Haj expenses paid by the Thai government. Sixty of those are chosen by the Internal Security Operation Command and 140 by the Southern Border Provinces Administration Center (SBPAC). SBPAC divides its quota as follows: 50 are religious leaders, 70 are family members of victims of regional violence and 20 are selected by SBPAC officers.
There are also private sector organizations, such as the Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives and Krung Thai Bank, which pay for the Haj expenses of their Muslim staff members. However all of those selected must follow the registration procedures established by the Ministry of Interior.
This is the first year that Haj has been full organized by the Ministry of Interior, and with regard to plans for the future, Director General Arthit said: “Our ultimate goal is to make Haj registration as convenient as possible and to allow pilgrims to perform Haj in comfort at a reasonable price. And we will do everything necessary to serve this ultimate goal. We maintain close contact and coordination with officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Saudi Arabia and we rely on the continuing good support and assistance of the officials of the Thai Consulate General in Jeddah.”
First Hajj flight on Saturday