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Heat-related deaths during Hajj reveal underworld of Hajj industry

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Heat-related deaths during Hajj reveal underworld of Hajj industry
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Mecca: The heat-related deaths in Saudi Arabia have revealed issues with fraudulent tour operators who take thousands to the holy land through illicit means, forcing them to walk kilometers, The Business Standard reported. Over 1,300 people died while making the Islamic pilgrimage of Hajj in Saudi Arabia this month, the majority of whom lacked official permits to visit the country, the Saudi government said.

In the scorching heat, many had to walk for miles following the operators' instructions, despite paying thousands of dollars to these illicit tour operators. In contrast, permitted pilgrims have access to air-conditioned transportation around the holy city and can rest in air-conditioned facilities. As temperatures exceeded 120 degrees, some pilgrims reported seeing people fainting and bodies lying in the streets.

On Sunday, in an interview on state television, the Saudi Health Minister, Fahd al-Jalajel, stated that 83 percent of the 1,301 reported deaths involved pilgrims who lacked permits.

“The rise in temperatures during the Hajj season represented a big challenge this year,” he said. “Unfortunately — and this is painful for all of us — those who didn’t have Hajj permits walked long distances under the sun.”

Al-Jalajel’s remarks came after days of silence from the Saudi government regarding the fatalities during the Hajj, an arduous and deeply spiritual ritual that Muslims are encouraged to perform at least once in their lifetimes if they can.

The deaths also highlighted a breakdown in Saudi immigration and security measures designed to prevent unregistered pilgrims from accessing the holy sites. This includes a security cordon around Mecca that is enforced weeks before the Hajj. Despite these efforts, approximately 400,000 undocumented individuals attempted to undertake the pilgrimage this year, a senior Saudi official, who wished to remain anonymous, told Agence France-Presse.

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TAGS:Middle EastHajjHeat
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