BEIRUT: Sixteen Lebanese returned from Indonesia to Lebanon Tuesday, while the bodies of the Lebanese who drowned off the Indonesian coast last month are expected to be repatriated by the end of October. They landed in Rafik Hariri International Airport in the afternoon, accompanied by an official delegation that flew to Indonesia last week to follow up on the tragic incident.
Last month, a boat carrying 72 people, mostly Lebanese, sank off the Indonesian coast during an attempt to illegally enter Australia. Some 28 survived, including 18 Lebanese. At least 26 Lebanese died, with dozens more missing and presumed dead.
Several of those that returned Tuesday were supposed to be on board the doomed vessel but refused to board after seeing its delapidated state. Six of them were arrested in Indonesia for overstaying their visas while the other 10 lacked papers and were likely planning on attempting a similar trip.
The 18 Lebanese survivors came back home Sunday.
“As for the bodies of the victims, we should not expect their return before the end of this month because of measures taken by Indonesian authorities,” caretaker Minister of State Ahmad Karami, who headed the official delegation, told reporters at the airport.
The returning Lebanese were greeted by overjoyed families and officials from Nabih Berri’s Amal Movement who turned out “in solidarity” with the people of northern Lebanon.
Also on hand was Akkar MP Khaled Zahraman, from the Future parliamentary bloc of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri.
Meanwhile, a delegation from the Akkar village of Qabeet visited caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati at his Tripoli residence, expressing its gratitude over his efforts to return survivors back home and repatriate the bodies of the victims. Most of the dead Lebanese hailed from Qabeet.
“We urged the caretaker prime minister to accelerate the repatriation of the bodies,” Qabeet’s mayor, Hamza Abboud, told reporters after the meeting.