Several tourism firms issued wrong visas to illegal Hajj pilgrims: Saudi ministry

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Several tourism companies in different countries issued unauthorized visas for visitors to Saudi Arabia and encouraged them to perform Hajj illegally, the spokesperson for the Kingdom’s Ministry of Interior told Al Arabiya on Monday.

Colonel Talal al-Shalhoub said some tourism firms had encouraged their customers to travel to Mecca two months before the Hajj season began to circumvent Saudi regulations.

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This year’s Hajj saw more than 1.83 million Muslims gather in Mecca to perform the Islamic ritual. Hajj is one of the Five Pillars of Islam and all Muslims who are physically and financially able are required to undertake it.

To prevent overcrowding at one of the world’s largest gatherings, the Saudi government had issued strict regulations to limit the number of Hajj visas. Several media campaigns were launched months in advance to warn people against performing Hajj without a valid permit, al-Shalhoub said.

Stringent penalties were put in place to dissuade violators, he added.

In spite of that, dozens of violations were reported during the ritual.

A total of 1,301 pilgrims died during Hajj this year, out of which, 1,071 did not hold legal permits – making up a staggering 83 percent of total deaths. Heat stroke was the leading cause of death for majority of the pilgrims, the Saudi health ministry said.

According to al-Shalhoub, Hajj permits do not merely grant pilgrims entry into Mecca. They are also used as a means to determine the pilgrims’ locations, thereby allowing the authorities to provide them with the required assistance during emergencies.

In a statement earlier this week, Saudi Arabia’s Health Minister Fahad al-Jalajel said the Kingdom provided preventive assistance to approximately 1.3 million pilgrims during this year’s Hajj.

He added the authorities also delivered more than 465,000 treatment services, including 141,000 for those without Hajj authorization.

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