Hajj Pilgrims Project



The Customer Requirement

The Context

Security has always been a challenge during the Hajj, which involves a four-day series of rituals for all participants, culminating with a trip to Mount Arafat.  Many visitors entering the country during this religious event do not leave Saudi soil within the authorized period and/or with the same identity or simply get “lost”. With 1.5 million individuals entering and leaving the country within a time span of anywhere between two weeks and two months, being able to account for this massive influx of people poses a daunting task to the Saudi Immigration control.

Pilgrims gathered in the religious event

As Iris Recognition can establish a one-to-one link between a person and a person’s identity, BioID Technologies, representing this biometric in the Middle East, was requested by the Saudi Government to test the technology at the Hajj Airport, the specially built terminal for arriving and departing pilgrims. 

Project Description

The pilot was running at Jeddah Airport as a standalone installation, composed of Iris Readers at two counters in the Immigration area that communicated with a single central database.  The objective was to enroll up to 20,000 pilgrims that enter Saudi Arabia through this airport. The procedure was defined as follows:

  1. 1.An Immigration officer checks the passenger’s passport details and Visa.

  2. 2.Upon completion and if access to the country is granted, the passenger is enrolled in the Iris database. The standard 9-digit number that is normally assigned to country visitors is associated with the passenger’s Iris Code and name.

  3. 3.A sticker with a color (green) that indicates “Iris Enrolled Status” is put in the passenger’s passport.

  4. 4.Upon leaving the country through Jeddah Airport a further Iris Code is produced and checked against the database and upon a positive match a flag is set to “Left the Country”.

The principle objectives were defined as:

  1. 1.To ensure that pilgrims that enter the country are accounted for when they leave.

  2. 2.To be able to detect multiple enrollments attempts.

  3. 3.To identify individuals against a “Watch” list

  4. 4.Therefore both 1:1 and 1:many transactions were to be performed

The Iris Recognition project was run simultaneously with a Fingerprint registration system located in an adjacent terminal, such that the authorities would have the possibility to compare the two technologies.

Evaluation Criteria

In addition, the authorities defined the following performance and interaction parameters:

  1. Speed of Enrollments and Verifications

  2. Convenience

  3. Accuracy

  4. Cultural acceptance


  1. Project implemented January 2002 and ran during the Haj event of that year in        Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

  2. Enrollments: 19,600 in three weeks; operation never was a bottleneck in the immigration process

  3. Enrollment and Verification stations operational 24 hours / day

  4. Iris was the biometric that returned highest performance and accuracy

  5. Iris was the biometric considered to be most convenient from a user’s perspective

  6. All multiple enrollments and fraud attempts successfully detected

  7. Cultural acceptance: high

Project illustrations

Enrollments were organized both in a stand-up position as well as sitting down.