Act now to prevent another tragedy, MP urges

Muslim pilgrims walk after casting stones at a pillar symbolizing the stoning of Satan, in a ritual called "Jamarat," the last rite of the annual hajj, on the first day of Eid al-Adha, in Mina near the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia
Muslim pilgrims walk after casting stones at a pillar symbolizing the stoning of Satan, in a ritual called "Jamarat," the last rite of the annual hajj, on the first day of Eid al-Adha, in Mina near the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia
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A BRADFORD MP has led calls for authorities in the UK and abroad Saudi Arabia to do more to help ensure the safety of hajj pilgrims after her family witnessed chaotic scenes in the holy city of Mecca.

The stampede was the deadliest disaster in 25 years to hit the sacred pilgrimage and left at least 719 people dead and 863 injured, according to officials.

Horror unfolded in the valley of Mina, three miles from Mecca, on Thursday. Among those who witnessed the aftermath were the brother and mother of Bradford West MP Naz Shah.

Offering her condolences to the families of victims, Ms Shah highlighted a number of areas of concern.

She said: “In Mina many pilgrims just set up mini-tents and sleep in walkways, so that the actual paths that pilgrims can use are shrunk considerably. The walk ways are sometimes used by people in wheelchairs, those on motorbikes, and even at times minibuses and cars. This congestion and mixing exacerbates the problem.

“Because of inappropriate tents being put up sometimes exit pathways and escape routes become blocked. This makes escaping during emergency situations difficult or impossible. The sheer quantity of people crammed into such a tight space makes things difficult for emergency services to deal with issues.”

Ms Shah, who ousted George Galloway in May’s general election, said that while Saudi authorities did an ‘overwhelming amount of good work’, more needs to be done to avoid a similar tragedy.

She added: “Enforcement may have become problematic due to loss of communication due to the sheer amount of languages spoken by people from different parts of the world.

“There has been a breakdown in the organisation and management of this site and the authorities now need to look carefully and plan for all contingencies and issues that have been highlighted.”

Her words echo those of Khalid Anis, who is on the executive board of the Islamic Society of Britain, and is demanding that the tragedy will be properly analysed.

“Obviously we all want answers. We all need to know why this happened,” said Mr Anis.

“There are lots of rumours flying about but I always find rumours at this stage very unhelpful. There just needs to be a clear, transparent analysis of what went wrong.”

But Mr Anis is not confident that an analysis like that will happen and said it has already turned into a “blame game”.

He said any inquiry needs to be led by Saudi Arabia, but said the British Government could “push the Saudis to hold the inquiry and to make sure that it’s open and transparent”.

Some two million people from across the world take part in the five-day pilgrimage which began on Tuesday, and around 25,000 British nationals head overseas to the event.

It is not known if any of the dead are British but Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) is bolstering the size of its team on the ground as it seeks to “urgently gather information about British nationals who may require assistance”.