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More than 1,000 pilgrims died during the great Muslim pilgrimage which took place in Saudi Arabia in intense heat, according to a count carried out Thursday by AFP, more than half of whom were illegal pilgrims.

A diplomat from an Arab country told AFP on Thursday that 58 additional deaths had been recorded among Egyptian pilgrims, bringing the number of Egyptians who died during the hajj to 658.

According to him, 630 of them did not have official authorization for the pilgrimage, in which around 1.8 million people participated this year.

In total, 1,081 deaths were reported by around ten countries, officially or via diplomats involved in the search for victims.

The hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam and every Muslim who can afford it must do it at least once in their life at a time determined by the Muslim calendar, based on lunar cycles.

The rituals took place again this year in very high temperatures, which reached 51.8 degrees Celsius at the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Islam's holiest city in western Saudi Arabia. .

Each year, tens of thousands of faithful attempt to participate in the pilgrimage without having the necessary permits, paid for and granted according to quotas, which give access in particular to air-conditioned facilities.

In early June, Saudi Arabia announced that its security forces had turned back more than 300,000 unregistered pilgrims from Mecca, including 153,998 foreigners who entered the kingdom on tourist visas, without going through official channels.

However, it seems that a large number of clandestine pilgrims participated in the rituals which took place over several days starting on Friday, in particularly trying conditions.

“People were tired of being chased by security forces before the day of the (ritual at Mount) Arafat” on Saturday, “they were exhausted,” an Arab diplomat who requested anonymity told AFP on Thursday.

He said heat was the main cause of death among Egyptian pilgrims, including complications from high blood pressure.

Burials

In addition to Egypt, new deaths were confirmed Thursday by Pakistan and Indonesia.

Of around 150,000 pilgrims, Pakistan has so far recorded 58 deaths, a diplomat told AFP. “I think given the number of people, given the weather conditions, it’s completely natural,” he added.

Indonesia, which had around 240,000 pilgrims, reported a new death toll of 183, compared to 313 last year.
Deaths have also been confirmed by Malaysia, India, Jordan, Iran, Senegal, Tunisia, Sudan and the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan, without their causes still being announced.

Many people were still searching Wednesday for news of missing pilgrims in hospitals or through social networks.

Two diplomats told AFP on Thursday that the Saudi authorities had started steps to bury the bodies.
Saudi authorities “have their own system and we just follow it,” one of the diplomats said, stressing that his country was doing its best to inform the relatives of the deceased.

Given the number of deaths, especially among Egyptians, it will be impossible to notify all families in advance, the other diplomat added.

“Extreme danger”

Saudi authorities said they treated more than 2,700 pilgrims suffering from heat stress on Sunday alone, but did not provide information on the deaths.

Last year, countries reported more than 300 deaths during the hajj, mostly Indonesians.
The date of the hajj advances by approximately 11 days each year in the Gregorian calendar.

But with climate change, the heat stress of pilgrims will exceed the “extreme danger threshold” between 2047 and 2052 and from 2079 to 2086, “with increasing frequency and intensity as the century advances”, according to a study published in 2019 in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.


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