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Egypt shuts down 16 travel companies after Hajj tragedy

  • Crackdown on unlicensed trips
  • Hundreds of Egyptians died
  • Temperatures close to 50C

Egypt has withdrawn the operating licences of 16 travel companies for organising unlicensed Hajj trips to Saudi Arabia.

A statement from the Egyptian government said the companies would be prosecuted and fined, with the funds used to compensate pilgrims’ families for their loss. 

Hundreds of Egyptians were among 1,301 people who died of exposure to extreme heat while performing the rites last week.

Saudi Arabia said 83 percent of the pilgrims who died had entered Mecca without a Hajj permit – which prevented them from accessing tents and transport to avoid temperatures of close to 50C.

“The number of mortalities reached 1,301, with 83 percent being unauthorised to perform Hajj and having walked long distances under direct sunlight without adequate shelter or comfort,” the official Saudi Press Agency said. 

The Egyptian government crackdown is aimed at companies that allowed people to travel to Saudi Arabia on ordinary tourist visas without preventing them from going on to do Hajj. 

In early June, the Saudi interior ministry said it had evicted 325,000 people from Mecca. Nearly half were international visitors who had entered the country as tourists to avoid using the official tour operators. It also introduced new penalties this year as part of its efforts to improve Hajj organisation

The costs of Hajj are becoming ever higher for pilgrims coming from around the world to perform the rites, which are a duty for every able-bodied Muslim to perform once in a lifetime. This encourages many to avoid using the official Hajj tour operators. 

Saudi Arabia has revamped its pilgrimage regulations in recent years as part of a strategy to boost tourism revenues to 10 percent of GDP by 2030. It has introduced an app for quick visa approvals.  

The government said the total number of pilgrims this year was 1.83 million. Only 221,854 were Saudi nationals and residents coming from inside the country.

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