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Hundreds Perish Amid Soaring Temperatures at Hajj Pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia

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Hundreds of people are reported to have died amid soaring temperatures at the Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia. The victims come from more than two dozen countries, with most fatalities from Egypt.

The BBC visited one Egyptian community that has lost over 20 people. Many Egyptian pilgrims come from poor villages and spend their life savings on the spiritual journey to Mecca, the holiest city in Islam.

Effendiya, a 70-year-old widow and mother of five from the northern province of Menoufiya, sold her jewelry to pay for her Hajj trip. But she died while performing her rituals, devastating her family.

“My mum’s death has broken me,” says her son Sayyed, bursting into tears. Effendiya went to Mecca on a tourist visa, not an official Hajj visa, as she could not afford the around $6,000 cost of the official pilgrimage.

She was among hundreds of thousands of unregistered pilgrims who hoped to fulfill their religious obligation this year without obtaining special Hajj permits. Saudi authorities considered these unofficial visits a violation of their regulations.

Effendiya’s family says she and other unregistered pilgrims “had none of the facilities, they were totally abandoned” – lacking air-conditioned tents, buses, and medical care that registered pilgrims receive. Her family tried to protect her from the searing heat by using bedsheets to make a tent.

The Egyptian authorities say many of the deceased pilgrims are unregistered, making it difficult to determine an official death toll. Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly has said an investigation will be opened into the activities of tour companies involved in sending unregistered pilgrims to Saudi Arabia.

Effendiya’s heartbroken children take solace in the fact that she was buried in Mecca, as she had hoped. “Her dream came true,” says her daughter Manal.

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