BEIRUT: Caretaker Minister of State Ahmad Karami said Friday that the bodies of the Lebanese who drowned off the Indonesian coast last month were still awaiting the results of DNA tests to be identified.
“For the bodies of the Lebanese who died in the incident, this issue is waiting on Indonesian authorities to conclude DNA tests for those who were killed,” Karami told reporters.
“I would like to seize this opportunity to reiterate calls to firmly crack down on networks smuggling people out of Lebanon, because they are deceptive and tarnish the reputation of the Lebanese,” Karami added.
He made his remarks to reporters at the Grand Serail after he briefed caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati of the outcome of his official visit to Indonesia last week to follow up on the boat tragedy.
A boat carrying around 80 migrants trying to illegally cross from Indonesia to Australia foundered off the Indonesian coast last month. At least 26 Lebanese were killed and 18 survived. Most of the Lebanese victims hailed from the underdeveloped area of north Lebanon, mainly from the Akkar village of Qabeet.
The 18 survivors returned to Lebanon last week. The delegation came back to Lebanon Tuesday along with six Lebanese who were detained in Indonesia for overstaying their visas and another 10 who were detained for not having legal papers.
In separate comments to The Daily Star, Karami said that forensic expert Fouad Ayoub, a member of the delegation, would head back to Indonesia after the Eid al-Adha holiday to follow up on efforts to identify the bodies of the deceased.
“Indonesian authorities are still taking DNA samples from the bodies that will be compared to the DNA samples sent by the families of the victims,” Karami said, adding that there was unlikely to be progress in the case before the Eid al-Adha holiday.
A written statement from the Indonesian Embassy in Lebanon said the country was facing the threat of human trafficking networks and the boat tragedy marked the first time Lebanese migrants were involved.
“Indonesia is facing a serious problem concerning these smuggling activities,” said the statement, which was sent to The Daily Star in response to an interview request.
“Many illegal immigrants and asylum-seekers from other countries are attempting to enter Australia, and this tragedy involving Lebanese nationals was the first time this happened in Indonesia,” the statement said.
“Noting this tragedy, the embassy is now evaluating its visa issuance procedure. The embassy will be more cautious in processing visa applications, especially in verifying all the required documents of the applicant.”
In response to a question regarding Australian authorities’ assertion that Indonesian authorities “could not respond” to the sinking ship when contacted, the statement said Indonesia was still investigating the incident.
“Indonesian authorities are still conducting relevant inquiries to investigate the tragedy, including distress calls from the boat,” it said, adding that the embassy thought it would be unwise to speculate until the inquiry was finished.
Separately, a Future Movement delegation visited survivors in their Akkar villages Friday.
The delegation was headed by Samer Haddara, a Future Movement official in Akkar, and Mohammad Mrad, a member of the Future Movement politburo.
Haddara said the government failed to fulfill its obligations toward the Lebanese victims.
“The government took action several days after the painful incident,” Haddara said. “From the first moment after the disaster occurred, former Prime Minister Saad Hariri put all his resources at the disposal of the victims’ families and dispatched an envoy to Jakarta to follow up on the situation of the Lebanese for days.”
Haddara held the state responsible for the “humanitarian disaster.”
“The deprivation that Akkar has been suffering from since [Lebanon’s] independence has led the Lebanese to risk their lives to seek a better one elsewhere,” he said.
For his part, Mrad called on the judiciary to punish all members of the human smuggling network involved in the incident:
“We should follow up on this case until members of this network are arrested and punished, particularly senior members who dealt hastily with the lives and dignity of the people.”