Following deaths

KRG committee formed to find missing pilgrims in Saudi Arabia

ERBIL – A committee has been formed to locate Kurdish pilgrims from the Kurdistan Region who are missing in Saudi Arabia during this year’s Hajj pilgrimage.

The committee, which includes a representative from the Kurdistan Regional Government’s Council of Ministers, is coordinating with the Hajj and Umrah offices of both the Kurdistan Region and Iraq in Saudi Arabia.

Karwan Stuni, spokesperson for the General Directorate of Hajj and Umrah in the Kurdistan Region, reported to 964media that ten pilgrims are currently missing. “Our representatives in Saudi Arabia, in conjunction with the Iraqi Hajj and Umrah mission, have initiated a search for these individuals,” Stuni said.

He noted that the missing individuals had traveled to Saudi Arabia without official Hajj visas, which led to their exclusion from most Hajj services and subsequent disappearance. “This situation has resulted in confusion,” he added.

Pilgrims traveling via official channels benefit from proper supervision and services while in Saudi Arabia. Officially registered pilgrims benefit from a supervision ratio of one supervisor for every 47 individuals, coupled with comprehensive medical support, ensuring well-managed accommodations and food provisions.

Some pilgrims opt to travel to Hajj using tourist visas instead of official Hajj visas due to various challenges, including the limited availability of official visas, which are capped by quotas based on each country’s Muslim population. Additionally, tourist visas may appear more accessible and less costly compared to the comprehensive packages required for official Hajj participation. This choice, however, can lead to significant complications.

Stuni emphasized that the committee is diligently working to find the missing pilgrims and will keep their families informed of any developments.

He also reminded prospective Hajj pilgrims of the importance of adhering to official procedures. “From the beginning, all citizens were advised to enter Saudi Arabia with official Hajj visas to avoid such issues,” he stated. “Those who enter Saudi Arabia outside the procedures and regulations of the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah for performing Hajj are considered illegal.”

Yesterday, Nabaz Ismail, spokesperson for the Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs, told 964media, “Post-Hajj, a committee will be established with relevant stakeholders to address the actions of those who have irresponsibly transported people through annual visas. These actions have caused significant hardship to the pilgrims.”

He emphasized that the measures would focus on those facilitating the unauthorized transport, not on the pilgrims themselves.

As of June 22, there have been 25 reported deaths among Kurdish pilgrims in Saudi Arabia, with 24 occurring among those who entered on tourist visas.

Stuni also shared that the official number of this year’s Hajj pilgrims is 4,685, with 1,640 traveling by land between May 27 and June 5, 2024. He highlighted that a number of pilgrims, though exact figures are unknown, opted for unofficial channels and one-year tourist visas for their pilgrimage.

Many other countries are grappling with the repercussions of this year’s Hajj pilgrimage, during which more than 1,100 deaths were reported, many attributed to extreme heat. Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly has ordered 16 Egyptian tourism companies to be stripped of their licenses and their managers referred to the public prosecutor for illegally facilitating pilgrims’ travel to Mecca using visitor visas. This follows reports last week that 658 of the deceased were Egyptian, 630 of whom were unregistered pilgrims.

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