After Hajj Deaths, Egypt Suspends Companies That Took Pilgrims to Mecca

After hundreds of pilgrims died in the scorching desert heat during the annual hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, the Egyptian government is taking action against tour companies that facilitated the travel to Saudi Arabia, and said on Saturday that it had suspended the licenses of 16 companies.

At least 450 people died during the pilgrimage, in which travelers endured maximum temperatures that ranged from 108 degrees to 120 degrees Fahrenheit (42 to 49 degrees Celsius). But the actual number of fatalities is expected to climb far higher as governments get more accurate tallies of the deaths. (Egypt, for one, has officially acknowledged only 31 deaths.)

In announcing the suspension of the 16 travel companies, the Egyptian government said the businesses failed to offer the pilgrims important services like medical care. It said the companies did not provide the pilgrims with “appropriate accommodation,” which caused pilgrims to suffer from “exhaustion due to the high temperatures.”

The Associated Press reported that some travel agencies may not have officially registered for the pilgrimage, to get around the high costs of package tours. And, The A.P. said, companies were being blamed for letting pilgrims travel to Saudi Arabia on personal visas, rather than hajj visas that could have allowed them access to medical care and the holy sites.

Mahmoud Qassem, a member of Egypt’s Parliament, said the travel companies “left the pilgrims stranded and turned off their mobile phones” so they could not hear the travelers’ calls for help.

There were also complaints that pilgrims were not given access to enough cooling stations or water amid the intense heat.

The number of unregistered visitors — in addition to the intense desert heat — could have left Saudi Arabia unprepared for dealing with such a large influx of people.

Tunisia’s government has said that the death toll of pilgrims from that country was expected to rise from the 49 reported on Friday, as the number of people traveling on tourist visas became more clear.

The hajj has been the site of several tragedies, including a stampede in 2015 that killed more than 2,200 people. In recent years, with rising temperatures, many pilgrims have also succumbed to heat stress.

The Saudi government has said that during this year’s hajj more than 1.8 million Muslims traveled to Mecca, 1.6 million of them from outside Saudi Arabia.

Hager Al-Hakeem contributed reporting from Luxor, Egypt.

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