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Saudi Arabia confirms more than 1,300 heat deaths

With temperatures sometimes exceeding 50 degrees, this year's Hajj has claimed many victims among the pilgrims. Media have already reported hundreds of deaths. Now the Saudi Minister of Health has confirmed more than 1,300 deaths.

According to state media, a total of 1,301 people died due to the extreme heat during this year's Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Health Minister Fahad bin Abdurrahman Al-Jalajel announced this on state television.

More than 80 percent of them were not officially registered pilgrims, the official Saudi Arabian news agency reported. They had to travel “long distances under direct sunlight” and without adequate protection.

Arab diplomats had previously told the AFP news agency that 658 of the dead were from Egypt, and 630 of them were not officially registered.

Many pilgrims not registered

The five-day major event in Saudi Arabia is one of the five pillars of Islam. The pilgrimage should be undertaken by every healthy Muslim who can afford it at least once in their life. For financial reasons, many believers take part in the Hajj without the official pilgrimage license and are therefore not registered by the Saudi authorities.

The latter cracked down on pilgrims who did not have permission, expelling tens of thousands of them. But many, especially Egyptians, still managed to reach holy sites in and around Mecca, some travelling entirely on foot.

These unregistered pilgrims were particularly exposed to temperatures that sometimes exceeded 51 degrees. Without a license, they were not allowed access to cooled rooms that the authorities had set up for the 1.8 million authorized pilgrims to recover from the hours of walking and praying in the open air.

Deaths during Hajj not uncommon

According to a count by the AP news agency, the fatalities included 165 pilgrims from Indonesia, 98 from India and dozens more from Jordan, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria and Malaysia. The deaths of two American pilgrims were also reported.

Deaths are not uncommon during the five-day Hajj pilgrimage, for which at times more than two million people travel to Saudi Arabia. Mass panics and viral diseases have occurred time and again. However, this year's death toll was unusually high.

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