Egypt cracks down on travel agencies over Hajj trip frauds

CAIRO, June 22 (Xinhua) -- The Egyptian government is set to ban the operation of 16 travel agencies for arranging "fraudulent" Hajj trips to Saudi Arabia for unregistered pilgrims.

At a Hajj deaths crisis unit meeting held on Saturday, Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly said he has ordered the license of these agencies to be revoked and those involved persons and entities transferred to public prosecution, according to an Egyptian cabinet statement.

The statement did not detail which agencies or concerned persons were behind organizing such trips through fraudulence or other illicit means for unregistered pilgrims to Mecca.

Madbouly updated that among more than 50,000 registered Egyptian pilgrims, a total of 31 people with "chronic diseases" were confirmed dead.

The move came amid media reports of over 600 deaths among unregistered Egyptian pilgrims during their performance of Hajj over the past week under the extreme heatwaves in the Saudi city. The temperatures there at times hit 51 degrees Celsius.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry told the meeting that the crisis was most deadly to unregistered pilgrims, claiming that the tourism companies transporting them "did not provide any services."

He noted that his ministry would continue to coordinate with the Saudi authorities to find missing Egyptian pilgrims as soon as possible and ensure the home return of all Egyptian pilgrims.

Hajj, a pillar of Islam, is annually performed in Mecca by crowds of pilgrims from all over the world. The number of pilgrims has exceeded 1.8 million this year, according to Saudi authorities.

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