BEIRUT: A plane carrying 18 survivors from last week's boat tragedy off the coast of Indonesia arrived to Lebanon Sunday morning as relatives and officials swarmed the airport to receive the returnees.
Families greeted loved ones who survived the sinking of an Australia-bound ferry with dozens of would-be illegal immigrants aboard. Other families still await the return of their relatives' bodies.
“I traveled with my wife and three children and today I return all alone,” one of the survivors told reporters at the Rafik Hariri International Airport after landing in Beirut on board an Emirates Airline flight via Dubai.
Others who traveled alone to Indonesia said they embarked on this perilous journey in an effort to escape poor living conditions in Lebanon, particularly in the northern region which is considered to be Lebanon's most deprived.
Louay Baghdadi, 25, said he swam to a nearby shore after the boat was flooded with water and sank.
“We left on a boat with the understanding that they would put us on another one after an hour or an hour and a half,” Baghdadi told The Daily Star.
“When we sailed out to the sea they did not transfer us. They tricked us and sold us. It was cheaper for them,” he added, noting that the journey cost him $10,000.
Baghdadi said he would consider traveling once again via the same means.
“I knew there was death on the road I took, and in Tripoli, where I come from, there is death as well,” he said.
“If there was work, I would not leave. But I will definitely leave like this if I can,” he added.
Other survivors said the boat was at sea for five days and that the captain had lost his way. The boat sank on its way back to Indonesia.
Hussein Ahmad Khodr, whose wife and eight children died in the boat incident, arrived home to his northern village of Qabeet as many gathered to offer him their condolences.
"I sent pictures of the boat with my phone to several of my relatives in Lebanon and I used GPRS to contact Australian authorities asking for them to come save us," he told reporters.
"We were promised to go on a decent boat but that was not the case," Khodr added.
The father of eight said he pulled the bodies of five of his children and his wife from the water. The bodies of his other children have not yet been identified.
According to the Lebanese delegation dispatched to Jakarta last week to deal with the repatriation of survivors and remains, 28 people in total survived the tragedy including 18 Lebanese, while Indonesian authorities have recovered 43 bodies so far.
Most of the Lebanese families involved in the tragedy hail from the northern village of Qabeet in Akkar.
The delegation is expected to return to Lebanon Wednesday along with six Lebanese who were imprisoned for overstaying their visas in Jakarta and five additional nationals who sought to return home.
Caretaker Foreign Affairs Minister Adnan Mansour who was at the airport Sunday to receive the survivors said DNA tests to identify the bodies of the deceased will take several days.
“The government should provide decent living conditions and jobs so that we can prevent such a tragedy,” Mansour told reporters.
“Judicial bodies should prosecute those who fooled the Lebanese into going on that trip,” he added.
Survivors and their families have spoken about a group of smugglers headed by an Iraqi citizen that charged each person between $3,000 and $5,000 to go on the trip.