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Hajj pilgrims: 83% of the 1,300-plus dead were unregistered, say the Saudis

Hajj pilgrims: 83% of the 1,300-plus dead were unregistered, say the Saudis

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Virendra Pandit

New Delhi: Saudi Arabia on Sunday said that nearly 83 percent of the over 1,300 Muslim pilgrims who died during the Hajj pilgrimage due to intense heat, were unregistered and did not have official permits for the pilgrimage.

“Regrettably, the number of mortalities reached 1,301, with 83 percent being unauthorized to perform Hajj and having walked long distances under direct sunlight, without adequate shelter or comfort,” the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported.

Those who died came from more than 10 countries and some governments are continuing to update their totals.

Nearly 1.8 million Muslims, including 1.6 million from other countries, visited Mecca for the Hajj which started on June 14 and concluded on June 19.

Earlier, the media, quoting Arab diplomats, said the Egyptians were the chief victims. Their deaths numbered 658 deaths, including 630 unregistered pilgrims.

Temperatures in Mecca this year shot up to 51.8 degrees Celsius (125 degrees Fahrenheit), according to Saudi Arabia’s National Meteorological Center.

Until Sunday, Riyadh did not publicly comment on the deaths or provide its count. On Friday, however, a senior Saudi official revealed a partial count of 577 deaths for the two busiest days of Hajj: June 15, when pilgrims gathered for hours of prayers in the blazing sun on Mount Arafat, and June 16, when they participated in the “stoning of the devil” ritual in Mina.

On Sunday, Saudi Health Minister Fahd Al-Jalajel described the management of the pilgrimage this year as ‘successful.” He said the health system “provided more than 465,000 specialized treatment services, including 141,000 services to those who had no official authorization to perform Hajj.” He did not, however, specify how many deaths Saudi officials attributed to the heatwave.

“The health system addressed numerous cases of heat stress this year, with some individuals still under care,” SPA reported.
“Among the deceased were several elderly and chronically ill individuals.”

In recent years, the outdoor rituals have fallen during the sweltering Saudi summer. The timing of the Hajj moves about 11 days each year in the Gregorian calendar, meaning that next year it will take place earlier in June, potentially in cooler conditions.

A 2019 study by the journal Geophysical Research Letters said because of climate change, heat stress for Hajj pilgrims will exceed the “extreme danger threshold” from 2047 to 2052 and 2079 to 2086, “with increasing frequency and intensity as the century progresses.”

Hajj permits are allocated to countries on a quota system and distributed to individuals by lottery. Even for those who can obtain them, the steep costs spur many to attempt the Hajj without a permit, although they risk arrest and deportation if caught.

An official said nearly 400,000 unregistered pilgrims took part, and that “almost all of them (were) from one nationality,” an apparent reference to Egypt.

On Saturday, Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly ordered 16 tourism companies stripped of their licenses and referred their managers to the public prosecutor over illegal pilgrimages to Mecca, Egypt’s cabinet said.

It said the rise in the number of deaths of unregistered Egyptian pilgrims stemmed from some companies that “organized the Hajj programs using a personal visit visa, which prevents its holders from entering Mecca” via official channels.

Unregistered pilgrims in many cases did not have access to amenities meant to make the pilgrimage more bearable, including air-conditioned tents. Such Egyptian faithful struggled to access hospitals or hail ambulances for loved ones, some of whom ended up dying, the reports added.


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