Life Style

Pilgrim deaths in Mecca highlight the underworld Hajj industry

The deaths of more than a thousand pilgrims in Saudi Arabia over the hajj have highlighted an underworld of illegal tour operators, smugglers and fraudsters who profit from Muslims are desperate to fulfill their religious duty to go to Mecca.

While registered pilgrims are transported around temples in air-conditioned buses and rest in air-conditioned tents, undocumented people are often exposed to the elements, leaving them more vulnerable to extreme heat. Some pilgrims this year described seeing people faint and walking past bodies in the streets as temperatures reached 120 degrees or higher.

On Sunday, in an interview on state television, Saudi Arabia’s Health Minister, Fahd al-Jalajel, said that 83% of the more than 1,300 deaths occurred among undocumented pilgrims. official permission.

“The increase in temperature during the hajj season is a big challenge this year,” he said. “Unfortunately – and this is painful for all of us – those without hajj permits had to walk very far under the sun.”

Mr. al-Jalajel’s comments came after several days of silence from the Saudi Arabian government about deaths during the hajj pilgrimage, an arduous and deeply spiritual ritual that Muslims are capable of. abilities are encouraged to exercise in their lives.

With nearly two million pilgrims participating each year, many of them elderly or infirm, it is not unusual for people to die from heat, illness or chronic illness, and Saudi Arabia does not regularly report those statistics. Therefore, it is unclear whether this year’s death toll is unusual or not. Last year, 774 pilgrims died exclusively from Indonesiaand in 1985, more than 1,700 people died around holy sites, mostly from heat stress, a learn found at that time.

But because so many pilgrims have died this year while making the pilgrimage without official documents, their deaths have exposed the underworld of unlicensed tour operators, Smugglers and scammers take advantage of pilgrims desperate to perform the hajj, helping them evade regulations.

“There is so much greed surrounding this business,” said Iman Ahmed, co-owner of El-Iman Tours in Cairo.

Ms Ahmed says she refuses to send unregistered pilgrims on hajj packages but other Egyptian tour operators and Saudi Arabian brokers have made large sums of money doing so .

More than 1.8 million pilgrims have officially registered to participate in this year’s Hajj. But about 400,000 others tried to make the trip without the necessary documents, a senior Saudi official said. speak Agence France-Presse news agency spoke on condition of anonymity. That means nearly a fifth of this year’s pilgrims have bypassed the kingdom’s restrictions, including a security cordon around Mecca that was sealed off weeks before the Hajj.

Several countries that recorded large numbers of pilgrim deaths have acted quickly to deal with the consequences in the past few days.

In Egypt, authorities said they would revoke the licenses of 16 companies that issued “unofficial” visas to hopeful pilgrims without providing them with adequate services.

In Tunisia, where more than 50 people died, the president on Friday fired the country’s religious affairs minister.

And in Jordan, which recorded the deaths of at least 99 pilgrims, prosecutors opened an investigation into illegal hajj routes and those who profited from them.

In interviews with The New York Times, hajj tour operators, pilgrims and relatives of those who died said the number of undocumented pilgrims appears to have increased due to the economic downturn. economic growth is increasing in countries such as Egypt and Jordan. An official hajj package can cost more than $5,000 or $10,000, depending on the pilgrim’s country of origin – far beyond the means of many people hoping to make the trip.

But they also describe easily exploitable loopholes in Saudi Arabia’s regulations that allow undocumented pilgrims to enter the kingdom on tourist or visitor visas weeks before the Hajj. When they arrived, they said, they found a network of illegal brokers and smugglers providing their services, taking their money and sometimes leaving them to fend for themselves.

Saudi officials did not respond to requests for comment.

Among those who fell into that trap was Safaa al-Tawab, from the Egyptian city of Luxor.

Her brother, Ahmed al-Tawab, said Ms. al-Tawab, 55, was unable to get a hajj permit but found an Egyptian travel agency that offered to take her for about $3,000.

He said she did not understand that she had broken the rules when she traveled to Saudi Arabia last month.

After arriving, she told her relatives that she had been placed in an inadequate accommodation and was prevented from leaving by the tour operator. While the company had promised to provide air-conditioned buses to transport pilgrims around Mecca, she instead had to walk miles in the sun to reach the holy site, Mr. al-Tawab said.

His sister died in the middle of the pilgrimage, but when he contacted the tour company, they assured him that she was fine. Mr. al-Tawab said that when the company representative learned that her relatives knew about her death, he turned off his phone.

“The pilgrims were deceived,” Mahmoud Qassem, a member of the Egyptian Parliament, said in a request for information from government officials.

“They have left them alone to face their own fate,” Mr. Qassem said of the travel companies.

Reporting contributed by Hager ElHakeem, Rana F. Sweis, Zia ur-Rehman, Saif Hasnat, Mujib Mashal, Safak Timur, Aida Alami And Muktita Suhartono.


News 7F: Update the world's latest breaking news online of the day, breaking news, politics, society today, international mainstream news .Updated news 24/7: Entertainment, the World everyday world. Hot news, images, video clips that are updated quickly and reliably

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button