Loved Ones Search For Missing As Hajj Death Toll Passes 900

Friends and family searched for missing hajj pilgrims on Wednesday, as the death toll from the annual ceremonies, which took place in sweltering temperatures, surpassed 900.

Relatives scoured hospitals and asked for updates online, expecting the worst after temperatures in Mecca, Islam’s holiest city, reached 51.8 degrees Celsius (125 Fahrenheit) on Monday.

Around 1.8 million pilgrims from all over the world, many of them were elderly and infirm, participated in the days-long, primarily outdoor pilgrimage, which took place this year during Saudi Arabia’s scorching hot summer.

An Arab ambassador told AFP that mortality among Egyptians had increased to “at least 600” from more than 300 a day earlier, owing primarily to the oppressive heat.

This amount brings the overall number of recorded deaths to 922, according to an AFP assessment of numbers published by several countries.

The envoy later stated that Egyptian officials in Saudi Arabia had received “1,400 reports of missing pilgrims,” including the 600 deceased.

Mabrouka bint Salem Shushana of Tunisia, in her early 70s, has gone missing since the pilgrimage’s climax on Saturday at Mount Arafat, her husband Mohammed informed AFP on Wednesday.

He stated that because she was unregistered and did not have an official hajj permit, she was prohibited to use air-conditioned facilities that allow pilgrims to cool down.

“She’s an old lady. She was tired. She was feeling so hot, and she had no place to sleep,” he said. “I looked for her in all the hospitals. Until now I don’t have a clue.”

Facebook and other social media networks have been flooded with pictures of the missing and requests for information.

Those searching for news include family and friends of Ghada Mahmoud Ahmed Dawood, an Egyptian pilgrim unaccounted for since Saturday.

“I received a call from her daughter in Egypt begging me to put any post on Facebook that can help track her or find her,” said one family friend based in Saudi Arabia, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he did not want to anger Saudi authorities.

“The good news is that until now we did not find her on the list of the dead people, which gives us hope she is still alive.”

Searing heat

The hajj is one of Islam’s five pillars, and all Muslims who have the means must perform it at least once.

Its time is regulated by the Islamic lunar calendar, which moves forward every year in the Gregorian calendar.

For the past several years, the majority of outdoor rites have occurred during the hot Saudi summer.

According to a Saudi study published last month, temperatures in the area are rising by 0.4 degrees Celsius (0.72 degrees Fahrenheit) per decade.

In addition to Egypt, Jordan, Indonesia, Iran, Senegal, Tunisia, and Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region have acknowledged casualties, though authorities have often not explained the cause.

A second Arab ambassador told AFP on Wednesday that Jordanian officials were seeking for 20 missing pilgrims, while 80 others who were initially reported missing had been found in hospitals.

An Asian ambassador told AFP that there were “around 68 dead” in India, with more missing.

“Some perished due to natural causes, and we had many elderly pilgrims. And some are due to weather conditions, we believe,” he said.

Saudi Arabia has not published numbers on fatalities, but it did disclose over 2,700 cases of “heat exhaustion” on Sunday alone.

Last year, more than 200 pilgrims were reported dead, the most of whom were from Indonesia.

‘No news’

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

This has become easier since 2019 when Saudi Arabia introduced a general tourism visa, said Umer Karim, an expert on Saudi politics at the University of Birmingham.

“Before, the only people who could have done that were residents of the kingdom, and they know the situation,” he said.

“For these tourist visa guys, it’s like being on the migrant route without any idea of what to expect.”

One of the Arab diplomats who spoke to AFP on Wednesday said many of the dead Egyptians were unregistered.

Even pilgrims who have official permits can be vulnerable, including Houria Ahmad Abdallah Sharif, a 70-year-old Egyptian pilgrim who has been missing since Saturday.

After praying on Mount Arafat, she told a friend she wanted to go to a public bathroom to clean her abaya, but she never came back.

“We’ve searched for her from door to door and we have not found her until now,” said the friend, who also spoke on condition of anonymity.

“We know many who are still searching for their family members and relatives and they are not finding them, or if they are finding them they are finding them dead,” the friend added.

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