According to Saudi Arabia, at least 1,301 people lost their lives due to intense heat during the Hajj pilgrimage.

Most of those making the pilgrimage did not have permits and were left exposed to the scorching elements.

“Regrettably, the number of mortalities reached 1,301, with 83% being unauthorised to perform hajj and having walked long distances under direct sunlight, without adequate shelter or comfort,” the Saudi Press Agency said, as reported by AFP.

Arab diplomats said 658 of those who perished were Egyptian, 630 of whom were not registered as pilgrims.

“The rise in temperatures during the hajj season represented a big challenge this year,” said Fahd al-Jalajel, Saudi Arabia’s health minister, as The New York Times reported. “Unfortunately — and this is painful for all of us — those who didn’t have hajj permits walked long distances under the sun.”

The Hajj is a spiritual journey Muslims are encouraged to take once in their lives if they are able. Almost two million people perform the ritual annually, many of them losing their lives due to heat stress, chronic disease or illness.

Last year, 774 of those making the pilgrimage died from Indonesia alone. It was not clear if this year’s death toll was higher than normal, since Saudi Arabia does not provide those statistics on a regular basis.

According to Saudi officials, this year 1.8 million people made the pilgrimage, 1.6 of whom were from abroad, reported The Guardian.

Temperatures in Mecca were as high as 125.2 degrees Fahrenheit during this year’s Hajj.

Egypt’s cabinet said the higher number of unregistered Egyptian pilgrims dying on the journey was due to some companies that “organised the hajj programmes using a personal visit visa, which prevents its holders from entering Mecca” through official channels.

Egypt’s prime minister Mostafa Madbouly on Saturday ordered that the licenses of 16 tourism companies be taken away over illegal pilgrimages, according to the cabinet. Madbouly also referred the managers of the companies to the public prosecutor.

Permits for the Hajj are given to countries based on a quota system, then distributed to individuals via a lottery. However, the high costs of the Hajj — which can be thousands of U.S. dollars — leave many without a permit, risking arrest and deportation.

The pilgrimage involves rituals in and around Mecca that often include hours of walking in the hot sun.

Madbouly offered his “sincere condolences and sympathy” to the deceased pilgrims’ families and committed to giving them the necessary support, CNN reported.

Ahmed from Indonesia recounted seeing many getting ill and dying from the unbearably hot temperatures, adding that he did not see any health workers or ambulances on the roadway.

“Along the way home, I saw many pilgrims who died. Almost every few hundred meters, there was a body lying and covered with an ihrom [white fabric] cloth,” Ahmed told CNN. “Every time there is a distribution of water from local residents or certain groups, it is immediately overrun by the pilgrims.”

The death toll could still rise, as governments become aware of unregistered pilgrims from their countries.

Cristen is a writer of fiction and nonfiction. She holds a JD and an Ocean & Coastal Law Certificate from University of Oregon School of Law and an MA in Creative Writing from Birkbeck, University of London. She is the author of the short story collection The Smallest of Entryways, as well as the travel biography, Ernest’s Way: An International Journey Through Hemingway’s Life.

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