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Number of pilgrims killed in Saudi Arabia exceeds 1,300

Saudi Arabia said on Sunday (23) that more than 1,300 people had died in this year’s Hajj pilgrimage – with “numerous cases” due to heat stress and “unauthorized” travel accounting for more than four in five of the fatalities.

“The health system has addressed numerous cases of heat stress this year, with some individuals still in care. Unfortunately, the number of deaths has reached 1,301,” the Saudi government said in a statement when releasing its first official figures.

The statement said that 83% of those who died “were not authorized to perform Hajj” and “walked long distances in direct sunlight without adequate shelter or comfort.”

The statement also said that among the deceased were “several elderly and chronically ill individuals.”

Extreme heat has been cited as a major factor behind the hundreds of deaths and injuries reported this year during Hajj. Mecca, the holy city that is central to Hajj pilgrims, saw temperatures rise to a record 51 degrees Celsius. Several officials also said the problems were worsened by the number of unofficial pilgrimages.

Saudi Arabia requires each pilgrim to purchase one of the 1.8 million permits available to legally access Mecca. These licenses can cost several thousand US dollars. Unlicensed pilgrims typically do not travel in organized air-conditioned tour buses or have easy access to water and food supplies.

Saudi Arabia’s announcement comes as the Egyptian government vowed to revoke the licenses of 16 Hajj tourism companies involved in making illegal pilgrimages to Mecca and refer the company’s managers to the public prosecutor amid fears that hundreds of Egyptians are among the dead.

Egypt’s decision was made at a cabinet meeting on Saturday (22), after a report highlighted the dubious nature of how some tourism companies operate.

The official number among Egyptians is 31, but it is being reported by Reuters news agency and other media outlets that 500 to 600 Egyptians died during the pilgrimage.

The report, which was reviewed by the cabinet, indicated that some operators did not issue correct visas, preventing holders from entering the holy city of Mecca and forcing them to enter “through desert paths on foot.” Furthermore, it accused some companies of not providing adequate accommodation, leaving tourists exposed to the heat.

At the meeting, Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly offered his “sincere condolences and sympathy” to the families of the deceased pilgrims, pledging to provide them with the necessary support.

Hajj under a scorching sun

The timing of Hajj is determined by the Islamic lunar calendar which this year coincided with scorching temperatures in Saudi Arabia. The pilgrims made this year’s journey in 51ºC heat.

Ahmed, 44, from Indonesia, told CNN which saw many people fall ill and even die from the heat.

“On the way home, I saw many pilgrims who died. Almost every few hundred meters, there was a body lying down and covered with an ihrom [tecido branco].”

“Every time there is water distribution by local residents or certain groups, it is immediately taken by pilgrims,” he added, saying he did not see health workers or a single ambulance along the road.

As part of the pilgrimage, the faithful perform a series of rituals in and around the holy city of Mecca, often involving many hours of walking in the scorching heat every day.

The exact number of deaths from this year’s Hajj total could still rise, as governments are only aware of pilgrims who registered and traveled to Mecca as part of their country’s quota.

Source: CNN Brasil

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