Egyptian Prime Minister orders 16 tourism companies to be stripped of their licences after 1,100 people die on hajj Mecca pilgrimage

The Egyptian government revealed it is set to prosecute travel agents over hajj 'fraud' following the deaths of more than 1,100 who took part in the pilgrimage over the weekend.

Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly ordered 16 tourism companies to be stripped of their licences and referred their managers to the public sector on Saturday over the illegal pilgrimages to Mecca, the cabinet stated.

An AFP tally published on Friday, compiled of official statements and reports from diplomats involved in the response following the tragedy, revealed the death toll had hit a staggering 1,126 - with more than half of the victims from Egypt.

Arab diplomats stated earlier this week that Egyptian nationals accounted for 658 deaths, with 630 of them unregistered pilgrims.

President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi had ordered that a 'crisis cell' headed by Madbouly follow up on the deaths of Egyptian pilgrims.

The Egyptian government has ordered 16 travel agents to be stripped of their licences after 1,100 people died during the hajj Mecca pilgrimage over the weekend

The Egyptian government has ordered 16 travel agents to be stripped of their licences after 1,100 people died during the hajj Mecca pilgrimage over the weekend

Muslim pilgrims were forced to use umbrellas to shade themselves from the scorching sun

Muslim pilgrims were forced to use umbrellas to shade themselves from the scorching sun

Medical team members evacuate a Muslim pilgrim, affected by the intense heat, at the base of Mount Arafat, also known as Jabal al-Rahma or Mount of Mercy, during the annual hajj pilgrimage on June 15, 2024

Medical team members evacuate a Muslim pilgrim, affected by the intense heat, at the base of Mount Arafat, also known as Jabal al-Rahma or Mount of Mercy, during the annual hajj pilgrimage on June 15, 2024

'The prime minister has ordered the licences 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 cabinet statement said.

It is said the horrific number of deaths was partially due to some 'fraudulent' companies which 'organised the hajj programmes using a personal visit visa, which prevents its holders from entering Mecca'.

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The government said that over 500,000 Egyptians joined the holy pilgrimage officially, and that there were '31 deaths as a result of chronic diseases'.

It is said the travel firms accused of arranging the unauthorised hajj visits did not provide adequate services, 'causing unregistered pilgrims to be exhausted as a result of high temperatures'.

On Tuesday, one diplomat said: 'All of them (the Egyptians) died because of heat' except for one who sustained fatal injuries during a minor crowd crush'.

The hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam and all Muslims with the means must complete it at least once.

Hajj permits are allocated to countries on a quota system and distributed to individuals by lottery.

Each year tens of thousands of pilgrims attempt to perform the hajj through irregular channels as they cannot afford the often costly procedures for official hajj visas.

Masses of Muslim pilgrims arrived to perform the symbolic 'stoning of the devil' ritual during the annual hajj pilgrimage in Mina on June 16, 2024

Masses of Muslim pilgrims arrived to perform the symbolic 'stoning of the devil' ritual during the annual hajj pilgrimage in Mina on June 16, 2024

Muslim pilgrims gathered at the top of the rocky hill known as the Mountain of Mercy, on the Plain of Arafat, during the annual Hajj pilgrimage, near the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia

Muslim pilgrims gathered at the top of the rocky hill known as the Mountain of Mercy, on the Plain of Arafat, during the annual Hajj pilgrimage, near the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia

On Tuesday, one diplomat said: 'All of them (the Egyptians) died because of heat' except for one who sustained fatal injuries during a minor crowd crush'

On Tuesday, one diplomat said: 'All of them (the Egyptians) died because of heat' except for one who sustained fatal injuries during a minor crowd crush'

This places these off-the-books pilgrims at risk as they cannot access air-conditioned facilities provided by Saudi authorities along the hajj route.

The 'fraud' route, which can save pilgrims thousands of pounds, has become increasingly popular since 2019 when Saudi Arabia introduced a general tourism visa making it easier to enter the Gulf Kingdom.

A senior Saudi official said the government had confirmed 577 deaths for the two busiest days of hajj: Saturday, when pilgrims gathered for hours of prayers in the blazing sun on Mount Arafat, and Sunday, when they participated in the 'stoning of the devil' ritual in Mina.

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'This happened amid difficult weather conditions and a very harsh temperature,' the official said, acknowledging that the 577 figure was partial and did not cover all of the hajj, which formally ended on Wednesday.

The pilgrimage is increasingly affected by climate change, according to a Saudi study published last month that said temperatures in the area where rituals are performed were rising 0.4 degrees Celsius (0.72 degrees Fahrenheit) each decade.

Temperatures hit 51.8 degrees Celsius (125 Fahrenheit) at the Grand Mosque in Mecca on Monday, the Saudi national meteorology centre said.

Earlier on Tuesday, Egypt's foreign ministry said Cairo was collaborating with Saudi authorities on search operations for Egyptians who had gone missing during the hajj.

The devastating incident comes after a travel agent sold bogus Mecca pilgrimage travel packs to Muslim customers who lost thousands of pounds after he cancelled at the last minute, a court heard in January.

Hasib Chowdhury, 50, was accused of 'making false representations' to customers from his Zamana Travels unit in Yardley by taking payments without booking flights, accommodation or applying for visas.

Mark Jackson, who prosecuted on behalf of Birmingham City Council trading standards, said: 'In July 2017 trading standards officers visited the business and spoke to the defendant. He told officers he was no longer trading as a travel agent. We say he wasn't being honest with the officers.'

He told the court analysis of his 'various' bank accounts demonstrated he had been taking money from customers including sums of £3,000 and £2,000 from different people in December that year.

Mr Jackson continued: 'He's taking thousands and thousands and thousands of pounds off people and he provided them with no service, no flights, no hotels, no nothing and he kept their cash.

'Some of them got some money back in dribs and drabs, mostly after he was before the court.'

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