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September 28, 2015

Information hard to get as families of missing pilgrims fear the worst


September 28, 2015

“Shaibi, I am alive!” As soon as Hafsa yelled out to her husband, another horde of people swarmed all over her and her wheelchair-bound mother, Zareen. Then they were gone.
That was the last Shoaib Shahid heard of his wife and mother-in-law before he too was crushed under the mass of frantic humans. He woke up in a hospital, unable to walk, where a staff member handed him a cell phone to call his family.
“They were right in front of my eyes and I lost them. I couldn’t save them!” was all he managed to tell his father, Shahid Anwar, before the words were lost in a wave of emotion.
Two days later, the names of Hafsa and her mother appeared on the initial list of seven Pakistani victims issued by the religious affairs ministry. The source of information regarding the mother-daughter duo, as per the list, is a certain Mr Shamim, a friend of Shoaib’s, who evidently had reported their deaths.
However, Shoaib’s father, Shahid Anwar, believes that Shamim could not possibly have had any other source of information than what Shoaib had told him.
“From what my son told us, we already fear the worst,” said Anwar, “At times we grieve, but then we also think about the possibility of the information being incorrect. For all we know, Shamim doesn’t know anymore beyond what Shoaib has told him.”
“Shamim is with my son and both of them are frantically searching for any leads about the whereabouts of Hafsa and Zareen,” added Anwar, “Even the exact number of dead and missing isn’t known yet. At such a point, who and what do we believe?”
The names of Hafsa and Zareen appear at the top of the list. It states their passport numbers, their names along with their husbands’, their place of residence and the source who reported their deaths. A particular discrepancy, however, is their purported place of residence, which is stated to be Saddar Town, whereas Hafsa and Zareen are residents of Block L, North

With both the Pakistani and Saudi governments yet to make an official announcement over the incident – which has claimed more than 730 lives and is said to be the worst Hajj incident in 30 years – anxious relatives and families have nowhere to turn to and remain caught up in efforts to confirm their worst fears or get some news to let hope live.
According to the DG Hajj Karachi, 42,000 people went to Saudi Arabia for the annual pilgrimage this year. In a statement issued late on Sunday night, the religious affairs minister, Sardar Mohammad Yousaf, claimed that 161 of the missing Pakistanis had safely returned to their hotels.
Sections of the foreign media stated the number of dead Pakistani citizens to be 236, a claim categorically rejected by the foreign office which claims to be waiting on official word from the Saudis.
The ministry of religious affairs, meanwhile, keeps amending the list of casualties as it gathers scattered information from eyewitnesses, health workers and local group managers.
“The information is being gathered at random from all and sundry so such discrepancies are bound to happen,” said an official of the foreign ministry on the condition of anonymity.
“Earlier, there was a case when someone reported the death of a friend but it was later found to be a false report. We had to remove the name from the list and I think the list will continuously be edited and re-edited.”
Amidst the chaos and uncertainty, Shoaib and his relatives keep searching – albeit in vain – for his wife’s face among the 300-plus pictures put up at a hospital near Mina.
“We are now on our way to another hospital to see if we can find my wife and mother-in-law in the pictures they have on display there. If I don’t find her by the time I have to return tomorrow (Monday), I will never be sure of what happened to them, whether they are dead or alive,” he said, speaking to The News over the phone.

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