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Saudi Arabia Restricting Access to Stampede Victims: Indonesian Officials

Arie Firdaus
2015-09-28
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Indonesian Religious Affairs Minister Lukman Saifuddin (left, standing) meets with Hajj pilgrims from Indonesia in Mina, Saudi Arabia, Sept. 25, 2015.
Indonesian Religious Affairs Minister Lukman Saifuddin (left, standing) meets with Hajj pilgrims from Indonesia in Mina, Saudi Arabia, Sept. 25, 2015.
Courtesy Indonesia Ministry of Religious Affairs

Indonesian officials are demanding that the Saudi government give countries affected by last week’s Hajj stampede full access to dead bodies to accelerate victim identification.

Officials from Indonesia – the country with the world’s largest Muslim population –confirmed Monday that 41 Indonesian pilgrims had died in the disaster, 10 others were hospitalized and 82 were missing.

In a statement issued from Mecca, Indonesia’s Religious Affairs Ministry said it was having difficulty identifying the dead because it had received hundreds of photographs of decomposing bodies. It had to attempt to match these with its own photographs and data about Hajj pilgrims, the ministry said.

Saudi officials have not yet released the nationalities of the 769 people who died in a stampede Thursday as pilgrims made their way to the complex in the nearby town of Mina, where Muslim worshipers were carrying out the symbolic “Stoning the Devil” ritual during Islam’s Eid-ul-Adha holiday.

Saudi officials should allow officials from other countries to participate in identifying the dead, Former Indonesian Religious Affairs Minister Abdul Malik Fadjar said.

“This matter can no longer be handled alone. It has to be handled together. This is an emergency situation, right?” Malik Fadjar told BenarNews on Monday.

Abdul Djamil, Indonesia’s director-general of activities around the Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages, said Saudi Arabia had not allowed Hajj officials from other countries to access victims immediately after the incident at Mina.

In a press release, he said Indonesian officials had been given limited access to the bodies at 11 p.m. on Friday.

‘They have to be transparent’

During his tenure as Hajj leader for Indonesia, Malik Fadjar said, the Saudi government was seldom transparent about management of the pilgrimage.

“Indonesia should be brave enough to demand full access. Saudi Arabia must swallow its pride. They have to be transparent and open access to countries whose citizens are still missing,” Malik Fadjar said.

While 82 Indonesians were unaccounted for as of Monday, 98 Hajj pilgrims from Bangladesh were still missing, officials with that country’s Ministry of Religious Affairs told BenarNews.

Bangladeshi officials also confirmed that at least 10 citizens had died in the incident. According to Agence France-Presse, 45 Indian pilgrims were also killed in the crush.

Zulkifli Hasan, chairman of the Indonesian People’s Consultative Assembly, insisted that Hajj officials be given access so that anxious relatives of pilgrims could get information about the fate of their loved ones more quickly.

“I hope our officials can get all the information,” Zulkifli told BenarNews.

He also urged the Indonesian government to press the Saudi government to reveal the cause of the incident, and not just settle for monetary compensation.

“They must request an investigation immediately. Don’t just accept it when they say they are ready with financial compensation. Then this could happen again,” he said.

Earlier, Saudi Health Minister Khaled al-Falih had suggested that undisciplined pilgrims who did not stick to the schedule for carrying out the pebble-throwing ritual were to blame for the tragedy.

Saudi Arabia’s senior-most cleric, Sheikh Abdul Azia al-Sheikj, was quoted by Saudi Press Agency as saying that the tragedy was not the responsibility of the government but “the will of God.”

Tricky undertaking

Indonesians who survived the stampede said Saudi Hajj officials had instructed them to take Street 204, where the stampede took place, rather than their usual route. Religious Affairs Ministry officials said they would try to find out why.

Streets leading to the stone-throwing site were closed Thursday morning without a clear explanation, according to pilgrims from other countries.

But for now, the ministry said it would focus on the process of identifying the dead and injured and locate the missing.

“Our team is working night and day to find people whose whereabouts are unknown,” Abdul Djamil said.

Saudi policy has made this task harder, Tempo quoted Religious Affairs Minister Lukman Saifuddin as saying. He said his staff had not been able to get much information from hospitals and morgues because of tight security.

“Access to information is not easy, either formally or informally,” he said.

Even after gaining access, Indonesian officials had difficulty trying to determine on their own – without any assistance from the Saudi government – whether the victims were from Indonesia.

Moreover, in many cases, an identifying bracelet or small bag given to Indonesian pilgrims was missing or had removed by officials at the scene of the stampede, Saifuddin said.

Indonesian officials were working round the clock, checking hospitals and funeral homes from Mina to Mecca, he said.

Jesmin Papri contributed to this report.

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