Egypt cracks down on tourism companies, blaming them for Haj deaths

By Reuters   June 24, 2024 | 06:05 pm PT
Egypt cracks down on tourism companies, blaming them for Haj deaths
Worshippers pray around the Kaaba, Islam's holiest shrine, at the Grand Mosque in Mecca ahead of the annual Hajj pilgrimage, 2024. Photo by AFP
Egypt withdrew the operating licenses of 16 tourism companies and referred them to the public prosecutor, accusing them of being responsible for the deaths of Egyptian pilgrims in Mecca, a crisis unit tasked with addressing the situation said on Saturday.

Medical and security sources say at least 530 Egyptians died during this year's Haj pilgrimage to Mecca, while the statement from the unit, formed on Thursday and headed by Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly, said 31 deaths were confirmed as a result of chronic illness.

The tourism companies which facilitated the travel of those who died did not provide them with services of any kind, including medical, the statement said without naming the companies involved.

The agencies are being blamed for sending pilgrims to Saudi Arabia on personal visit visas, rather than Haj visas that allow access to Mecca where Haj rituals take place.

Medical services offered by Saudi authorities to alleviate the hardships of the pilgrimage are not offered to those traveling with a personal visa. The pilgrims who died had to walk through the desert into Mecca to avoid arrest or deportation, the statement added.

Egyptian authorities also say those travel agencies did not provide the pilgrims with "appropriate accommodation," adding that this caused pilgrims' "exhaustion due to the high temperatures."

Egyptian authorities also documented 31 deaths among registered Egyptian pilgrims, citing "chronic diseases" as the cause of death.

Most of those who died were unregistered, the statement said.

In recent days hundreds of people from different countries have died in punishing conditions for the haj pilgrimage in the Saudi city, where temperatures have at times exceeded 51 degrees Celsius.

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