The bodies of Muslim pilgrims are seen after a stampede at Mina – Reuters
It has been a week since the tragedy that unfolded in the holy Muslim city of Mina during the Hajj in Saudi Arabia.
As per latest reports, more than a thousand people died and over 850 others were left injured when two large groups of pilgrims collided at a crossroads on their way to performing the ritual of Jamarat –"stoning of the devil."
The disaster was the worst to occur at the annual pilgrimage since July 1990, when nearly 1,426 people suffocated in a tunnel near Mecca.
And while nothing could be worse than dealing with the loss of a loved one, the ordeal of anxious families and relatives of the dead and missing persons is unending due to the inadequate response of Saudi authorities.
Indonesia, the most populous Muslim state, claims their officials had to wait for almost three days before they were granted access to their citizens who were killed or injured, according to the Associated Press.
"The Saudi Arabian government has its own regulations, tradition, culture and procedures in dealing with such cases," Lukman Hakim Saifudin, Indonesia's religious affairs minister, said in a statement. "This has not allowed us enough freedom in our effort to identify the victims.”
In Pakistan, one of the nations thatlost the largest number of nationals in the Sept. 24 stampede, the government is usually wary of criticizing Saudi Arabia directly. But the citizens have complained about the incompetency and indifference of concerned Hajj authorities both in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
"The Saudi government's sympathy and compensation money doesn't bring back my brother to his family," Haji Faiz, the brother of Salavat Khan from Peshawar, told Iranian Fars News Agency.
"The Saudi government is responsible for securing the safety and health of Hajj pilgrims and the fate of my brother should be clarified; if he has died, his body should be transferred but I don’t accept the excuse that he has gone missing and I will pursue the case," he added.
The most scathing reaction so far has come from Iran. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the country’s Supreme Leader, threatened Saudi Arabia with "tough and harsh" retaliation for not repatriating bodies of Iranian nationals swiftly.
"Saudi Arabia failed to fulfill its duties concerning the desperate wounded (pilgrims)," said Khamenei, according to Iran's official PressTV. "Should we decide to show any reaction, our reaction will be tough and harsh.”
Khamenei’s comments came soon after Iran nearly doubled its death toll from last week's Hajj stampede to 464.
The initial death toll was put at more than 750 people. And while no official statement has been made by Saudi Arabia on the disaster, much to the frustration of the affected families, the Gulf kingdom gave out foreign diplomats over 1,000 photographs of the dead which means the fatalities are significantly higher than previously thought.
There are thousands of people who are still unsure if their loved ones who went to perform the Hajj are missing or dead. Instead of using compensation money to deal with the crisis, the Saudi authorities should focus more on cooperating with the families of the stampede victims.
Saudi Arabia should not be allowed to get away with murder by throwing around cash. Not this time.