Haj pilgrims required to wear e-bracelets for safety

High-tech measure meant to help authorities provide care, identify people in event of crisis

RIYADH • Muslim pilgrims joining this year's haj in Saudi Arabia will have to wear an electronic safety bracelet, newspapers reported yesterday, after more than 2,000 died in a stampede last year.

The high-tech safety measure will help the authorities provide care "and identify people", the Arab News and Saudi Gazette reported.

The bracelets are water-resistant and connected to a GPS location system, and will store each pilgrim's personal information.

The information includes the person's address, visa and passport number, medical records and where the person entered the kingdom.

The devices will also notify those who wear them on timings of prayers. It will provide information about a multilingual help desk that can guide non-Arabic-speaking pilgrims around the various rituals of the annual Islamic event.

The pilgrims' personal and medical information can be accessed by employees of the Saudi Ministry of Haj and Umra, and security and services bodies, using a smartphone.

Saudi Arabia oversees the annual pilgrimage to Mecca by more than two million Muslims from around the world.

During the launch of the bracelets last week, Undersecretary for Umra Affairs Eisa Mohammad Rawas said the new device would allow the government and private- sector bodies to provide better services to the elderly and those who are lost and do not speak Arabic.

Undersecretary Rawas added that the ministry consulted travel agents and haj and umrah companies in Saudi Arabia and abroad before designing the bracelets.

At least 2,297 pilgrims died during the stampede on Sept 24 during last year's haj, according to data from foreign officials, some of whom expressed concerns about difficulty in identifying the victims.

Saudi Arabia declared a death toll of 769. It was the worst disaster in haj history.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, the interior minister who also chairs the haj committee, ordered a probe immediately after the stampede last year, but there has been no word on its findings. The tragedy happened as pilgrims made their way in searing temperatures to the Jamarat, the place where they ritually stone the devil in the city of Mina, west of the kingdom.

In another safety measure, more than 800 surveillance cameras were installed last month at Mecca's Grand Mosque, Islam's holiest site.

The cameras are linked to control rooms staffed by special forces monitoring pilgrim movements for the haj, Saudi newspapers reported.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 02, 2016, with the headline 'Haj pilgrims required to wear e-bracelets for safety'. Print Edition | Subscribe