Friday, 2 October 2015

Mecca stampede: Indonesian RI haj team continues pilgrim search, body identification

More bodies of Indonesian haj pilgrims are expected to be identified in the coming days as the government steps up its efforts following the arrival of dozens of containers carrying the victims of a recent stampede in Mina, Saudi Arabia, at hospitals on Wednesday.

As of Wednesday, the Indonesian death toll in the accident had reached 57 of the more than 700 who died, with around 78 Indonesian pilgrims “yet to return to their groups” since the deadly crush, the worst of its kind in 25 years, that occurred on Thursday last week.

The government has yet to confirm the whereabouts of the 78 people, whether they “got lost” after the stampede or were among victims’ bodies currently being examined at dozens of hospitals in Saudi Arabia, especially in Mecca and Medina.

Religious Affairs Ministry spokesman Rosyidin told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday night that five Indonesian pilgrims who were injured during the stampede had been receiving medical treatment at different hospitals in Saudi Arabia, adding that all identified Indonesian victims confirmed dead had been buried in the kingdom. “Tonight [Wednesday] there are several containers that have been opened.

There were also four other containers shipped to Jeddah to be identified at one of the hospitals in the city,” Rosyidin said.The ministry said the government of Indonesia would try its best to find the missing pilgrims and would keep family members updated about the search.

Meanwhile, according to data from the Indonesian haj team in Saudi Arabia, the number of missing pilgrims comprised nine people from Batam, 17 from Surabaya, 40 from Jakarta, 10 from Makassar, six from Solo, one from Balikpapan and one from Lombok. The head of the Religious Affairs Ministry’s Mecca office, Arsyad Hidayat, said on Wednesday that the Indonesian haj team had established three separate groups to expedite attempts to identify bodies unloaded from containers in several cities.

The first team was tasked with counting the number of Indonesian pilgrims yet to return to their groups by visiting all groups of Indonesian pilgrims in Mecca, while the second team would visit hospitals in Mecca and Jeddah to find injured victims. “The third team is to identify bodies of victim at [crisis center] Majma’ Ath-Thawari Bil Mu’aishim by identifying pilgrims’ paperwork [and] haj attributes such as bracelets, shawls and bags,” Arsyad said on Wednesday.

As victims’ bodies have begun to decompose, the third team, according to Arsyad, would cooperate with Saudi Arabia’s disaster victim identification (DVI) unit to get data on pilgrims’ fingerprints recorded when they first arrived in the kingdom. “We hope that with the use of fingerprints it will be easier for us to identify the bodies [of Indonesian pilgrims].

In addition, if we don’t find any haj accessories then we will confirm [the identity of] victims’ bodies with their respective group heads,” Arsyad added.Commenting on authorities’ slow progress in identifying the victims, House of Representatives Deputy Speaker Fahri Hamzah urged the government to exercise more political clout in dealing with the Saudi administration’s closed-lid stance on the resolution of the tragedy.

Fahri, who leads the House’s haj monitoring team, said that Saudi authorities should have provided unrestricted access and open communications to assist in the monitoring and handling of the situation, especially since Indonesia is home to the world’s largest Muslim population and sends the biggest number of pilgrims to Mecca every year.

“Indonesia has not shown the communicative prowess to [confront] Saudi Arabia [about disaster mitigation],” Fahri told reporters during a press conference at the House complex on Wednesday. House Speaker Setya Novanto corroborated his colleague’s claims by saying that Saudi officials had initially prevented the haj monitoring group from entering hospitals, despite having flaunted the Saudi Kingdom’s crest to prove that they were guests of Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud. “Eventually we waited until a car passed by and we snuck in,” Setya said on Wednesday. He claimed not to have seen any Indonesian officials in the hospital that day, despite the presence of several injured Indonesian citizens.

Friday 2 October 2015


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