Egypt to Prosecute 16 Travel Agencies Over Hajj Deaths

Announcing on Saturday, Egypt’s government will prosecute 16 travel agencies and revoke their licenses over the deaths of Egyptians during this year’s Hajj in Mecca.

Believing that over 1,000 people died during the pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia, many of the deaths are attributed to extreme heat. At least 658 of them were Egyptian.

Rising to 51.8 degrees Celsius (125 degrees Fahrenheit), temperatures in Mecca, Islam’s holiest city, soared during the course of the annual event, which started late last week.

Expecting around 1.8 million Muslims from all over the world in Saudi Arabia to take part in Hajj.

Stating after an emergency meeting on Hajj deaths, the Egyptian government said the high death toll among Egyptian pilgrims this year was a direct consequence of some travel agencies disregarding the rules by sending “unregistered” pilgrims.

Needing official permission from Saudi Arabia to enter the country, pilgrims must have the correct visas to do the Hajj. Due to space limitations, Saudi Arabia runs a quota system every year.

Arguing that some travel agencies sent pilgrims to Saudi Arabia on personal visit visas rather than Hajj visas, Cairo noted that such visas do not allow holders access to Mecca, where almost all Hajj rituals take place.

Circumventing that, the Egyptian government said, those pilgrims had to walk through the desert into Mecca to avoid getting caught by the Saudi authorities. Facing arrest and deportation, pilgrims caught without the correct visa risk severe consequences.

Prosecuting 16 agencies, Egypt emphasized the severity of the issue.

Failing to benefit from the facilities offered by the Saudi authorities to alleviate the hardships of some rituals, unregistered pilgrims endure more difficulties, most of which take place outdoors amid the scorching heat.

Adding to the challenges, Egyptian authorities claim those travel agencies did not provide the pilgrims with “appropriate accommodation,” causing pilgrims’ “exhaustion due to the high temperatures.”

Documenting 31 deaths among registered Egyptian pilgrims, the Egyptian authorities cited “chronic diseases” as the cause of deaths. Noting that most of those who died were unregistered pilgrims, Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry pointed out the failures of the travel agencies.

Facilitating their travel without offering any services, travel agencies neglected their responsibilities, Shoukry said.

Listing 16 travel agencies as responsible, a government report on the crisis initially identified the culprits.

Ordering the licenses of these companies to be revoked, their managers to be referred to the public prosecutor, and the imposition of a fine to benefit the families of the pilgrims who died because of them, the Egyptian prime minister took decisive action, the Egyptian cabinet stated.

Blaming the Saudi authorities or their own countries for not being organized enough or failing to provide enough shelter from the extreme heat, some victims’ families voiced their frustrations.

Introducing the ‘unregistered’ pilgrimage route fairly recently, this new pathway to Mecca to perform Hajj rituals emerged in late 2019.

Allowing foreigners from several countries to obtain visas to visit the country, the Saudi kingdom introduced tourist visas. Before that, travel into Saudi Arabia was mostly restricted to business, family visits, and religious trips.

Curtailed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the first few Hajj seasons following the arrival of the tourist visa faced limitations.

Favoring the unregistered route due to its significantly cheaper cost, many pilgrims find the official route’s costs prohibitively expensive, usually running into thousands of dollars for those arriving from abroad.

Being one of the world’s largest religious gatherings, Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam. Requiring every Muslim who is able to perform it at least once in their lifetime, Hajj holds immense significance in the Islamic faith.

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