06/25/2009, 00.00
SAUDI ARABIA
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New visa with fingerprinting and full-face digital photos for pilgrims visiting Makkah

Biometric procedures are being introduced to improve security, fight terrorism and eliminate long queues at customs offices. They are set to be place by 2010 and will apply to tourists, foreign workers and pilgrims. It is not clear whether they will apply to women.

Jeddah (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Starting next year pilgrims who want to visit Makkah will have to submit to fingerprinting and provide full-face digital photographs if they wish to obtain a visa from Saudi authorities. As part of its campaign to increase security and improve border controls the desert kingdom is set to adopt biometric technology, including eye scan.

Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Prince Khaled bin Saud announced yesterday that the government was calling for tenders from specialised international firms to set up a network of centres to provide biometric services which should be up and running by 2010.

The new procedures, already in places in other countries like the United Kingdom, should protect people against identity theft and help the authorities in their fight against terrorism.

“This important initiative has been taken to strengthen the Kingdom’s security and improve services to visa applicants,” the prince said.

Authorised biometric service centres should receive visa applications on behalf of Saudi embassies and missions according to the new rules.

For now it is not clear whether the new rules will apply to Muslim women (including Saudi women) wearing an all-enveloping cloak like the burqa which hides face and body.

However, the new rules should cut down on queues at airports and other entry points.

Saudi Arabia has already begun fingerprinting and taking digital full-face photos of foreigners coming to the Kingdom for Umrah (minor pilgrimage) and work.

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