Deaths Top 1300; Prosecutions Announced

( – In a grim development, over 1,300 pilgrims have perished during during the hajj, the annual worship trip to the Muslim holy sites in Saudi Arabia.

This has been announced by Saudi Health Minister Fahad bin Abdurrahman al-Jalajel, cited by DW.

His statements, released through the Saudi state news agency SPA, indicated that a majority, 83%, of the deceased were not authorized to partake in the rituals.

“[They] walked long distances under the sunlight, with no adequate shelter or rest,” Jalajel elaborated on the plight of these unregistered pilgrims.

He noted the inclusion of elderly and chronically ill individuals among them.

Despite criticism due to the high death toll, Jalajel upheld that the organization of this year’s hajj was “successful.”

He reported that the Saudi health authorities had administered over 465,000 specialized treatment services, with 141,000 directed towards unauthorized participants.

The excessive number of deaths has led to widespread scrutiny. Temperatures in Mecca soared to 125 degrees Fahrenheit (51.8 degrees Celsius) during the pilgrimage, exacerbating the perilous conditions.

Additionally, some national governments have accused travel agents of issuing illegal visas, which contributed to the overcrowded conditions, deeming these pilgrims as “unauthorized” by Saudi standards.

In Egypt, the government has responded forcefully to the tragedy, attributing the deaths of over 1,000, including 658 Egyptians, primarily to extreme heat.

A subsequent emergency meeting led to the decision to prosecute 16 travel agencies and revoke their licenses for sending pilgrims under improper visas.

These “unregistered” pilgrims, lacking official authorization, faced extreme risks by trekking through deserts to Mecca, evading detection by Saudi authorities, which could lead to arrest and deportation.

Egyptian officials have lamented the absence of adequate facilities and accommodation for these pilgrims, which significantly contributed to their exhaustion and vulnerability to the severe temperatures.

The Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry underscored this issue, asserting, “Travel agencies which facilitated their travel did not offer them any services.”

Following a government investigation, a report named the implicated travel agencies, prompting the Prime Minister to order severe penalties including revocation of licenses, legal prosecution of agency managers, and fines to support the bereaved families.

The debate continues with some families blaming inadequate organization and insufficient protection from the extreme heat by both Saudi and their own national authorities.

The issue of the “unregistered” route to Mecca for Hajj rituals, which emerged after Saudi Arabia introduced tourist visas in late 2019, poses a significant challenge.

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