More than 1,300 died during Hajj pilgrimage in scorching heat

Muslim pilgrims use umbrellas to shade themselves from the sun as they arrive at the base of Mount Arafat during the annual Hajj pilgrimage on June 15 (AFP via Getty Images)
Muslim pilgrims use umbrellas to shade themselves from the sun as they arrive at the base of Mount Arafat during the annual Hajj pilgrimage on June 15 (AFP via Getty Images)

More than 1,300 people died during this year's Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia after walking long distances in extreme high temperatures, Saudi authorities have announced.

Pilgrims were seen fainting, vomiting and collapsing in the scorching heat as they braced 50C temperatures to perform the Hajj rituals in and around the holy city of Mecca, with some survivors being airlifted for treatment in Riyadh.

More than 1.8 million people participated in this year’s Hajj, the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca.

The deaths included more than 660 Egyptians and Saudi Health Minister Fahd bin Abdurrahman Al-Jalajel said that 83 per cent of the 1,301 deaths were unauthorised pilgrims.

Speaking with the state-owned Al Ekhbariya TV, the minister said many of the dead worshippers could not be immediately recognised as they did not have identity documents.

The minister added that the dead were buried in Mecca and 95 pilgrims were being treated in hospitals.

All but 31 of those who died were unauthorised pilgrims, according to two officials in Cairo.

Egypt has revoked the licences of 16 travel agencies that helped unauthorised people travel to Saudi Arabia, authorities said.

More than 50,000 people were authorised to travel from Egypt to Saudi Arabia this year.

The officials said most of the dead were reported at the Emergency Complex in Mecca's Al-Muaisem neighbourhood.

Saudi authorities have cracked down on unauthorised visitors, expelling tens of thousands of people.

But many, mostly Egyptians, managed to reach holy sites in and around Mecca, some on foot. Unlike authorised pilgrims, they had no hotels to return to to escape the scorching heat.

In a statement on Saturday, Egypt's government said the 16 travel agencies failed to provide adequate services for pilgrims.

It said these agencies illegally facilitated the travel of pilgrims to Saudi Arabia using visas that don't allow holders to travel to Mecca.

The government also said officials from the companies have been referred to the public prosecutor for investigation.

According to the state-owned Al-Ahram daily, some travel agencies and Hajj trip operators sold Saudi tourist visas to Egyptian Hajj hopefuls, violating Saudi regulations which require exclusive visas for pilgrims.

Those agencies left pilgrims in limbo in Mecca and the holy sites in scorching heat, the newspaper said.

The deaths also included 165 pilgrims from Indonesia, 98 from India and dozens more from Jordan, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria and Malaysia, according to the Associated Press. Two US citizens were also reported dead.

Historically, deaths are not uncommon at the Hajj, which has seen at times over two million people travel to Saudi Arabia for a five-day pilgrimage.

The Hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam, is one of the world's largest religious gatherings.

More than 1.83 million Muslims performed the Hajj in 2024, including more than 1.6 million from 22 countries, and around 222,000 Saudi citizens and residents, according to the Saudi Hajj authorities.

Saudi Arabia has spent billions of dollars on crowd control and safety measures for those attending the annual five-day pilgrimage, but the sheer number of participants makes it difficult to ensure their safety.

Climate change could make the risk even greater. A 2019 study by experts at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that even if the world succeeds in mitigating the worst effects of climate change, the Hajj would be held in temperatures exceeding an "extreme danger threshold" from 2047 to 2052, and from 2079 to 2086.

Islam follows a lunar calendar, so the Hajj comes around 11 days earlier each year. By 2029, the Hajj will occur in April, and for several years after that it will fall in the winter, when temperatures are milder.