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Deaths at Saudi Hajj Show Challenge of Shielding Pilgrims from Lethal Climate

Editor

Laila Afifa

27 June 2024 18:09 WIB

Muslim pilgrims walk towards the Grand mosque in the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia August 5, 2019. Tight security has been employed in the holy city to ensure the safety of worshippers before the start of the official Haj activities. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

TEMPO.CO, Riyadh - Hundreds of the pilgrims who died in fierce heat at this year's hajj were not officially registered with the Saudi authorities, with the result that many had no access to vital services like air-conditioned buses and cool-off tents.

The deaths highlight a looming challenge for organizers as climate change takes hold in the region: the practice of requiring official permits for such services is stirring concern that unregistered pilgrims could increasingly be exposed to life-threatening temperatures.

At the same time, high prices for official hajj packages are driving some Muslims to take cheaper unofficial routes to the ritual, even though these lack the crucial permits, and to exploit an easing of curbs on some other kinds of Saudi visas.

The unregistered pilgrims' lack of a permit made it difficult to provide them with services and care, the security spokesman for Saudi's Ministry of Interior, Colonel Talal bin Shalhoub, said in an interview on Saudi TV channel al-Arabiya.

Critics of the government say all pilgrims, whatever their status, should be protected from heat, and allege the authorities this year cracked down on unauthorized attendees.

"This focus on registered visit versus unregistered is a red herring ... If you are there and you need help, you should get access to it," said Khalid al-Jabri, a physician who worked for the Saudi security agency that oversees haj and is currently part of the Saudi opposition in exile.

Saudi Arabia's international media office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Saudi Arabia’s health minister, Fahad Al-Jalajel said in a statement that health authorities provided services to unregistered pilgrims on 141,000 occasions during the hajj.



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