Hajj death toll exceeds 1,300 with mostly unregistered pilgrims

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Hajj death toll exceeds 1,300 with mostly unregistered pilgrims

RIYADH, JUN 24: Saudi Arabia said Sunday that the death toll of Hajj pilgrims has climbed past 1,300 as they performed the pilgrimage in extreme heat and most of the deceased did not have official permits.

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

The deceased pilgrims belonged to more than 10 countries, ranging from the United States to Indonesia, and some governments are still updating their figures.

According to Arab diplomats last week, Egyptians accounted for 658 deaths, among whom 630 were unregistered pilgrims.

They said that the cause of death in most cases was heat-related as temperatures in Makkah this year climbed as high as 51.8°C, according to Saudi Arabia’s national meteorological centre.

Riyadh had not publicly commented on the deaths or provided its own toll until Sunday.

However, on Friday, a senior Saudi official gave a partial toll 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.

The official also defended Riyadh’s response, saying: “The state did not fail, but there was a misjudgement on the part of people who did not appreciate the risks.”

The Saudi health minister, Fahd Al Jalajel, on Sunday described management of this year’s Hajj as “successful”, SPA reported.

He said the health system “provided more than 465,000 specialised treatment services, including 141,000 services to those who didn’t obtain official authorisation to perform Hajj,” according to SPA, which summarised an interview he gave to Saudi Arabia’s Al Ekhbariya channel.

Saudi officials have said 1.8 million pilgrims took part this year, a similar number to last year, and that 1.6 million came from abroad.