Lebanese asylum-seekers home after deadly boat accident

BEIRUT (AFP) - Eighteen Lebanese asylum-seekers who survived when their boat sank off Indonesia last week returned home on Sunday voicing anger at the government's failure to provide them with jobs and security.

They wept as they embraced relatives at Beirut's international airport but also railed against the state, accusing it of indifference towards the insecurity plaguing Lebanon and rising unemployment, made worse by an influx of Syrian refugees.

In total, 68 Lebanese, mostly from poor areas in the north of the country like the Akkar region, were on board an Australia-bound boat when it sank on Sept 27 off the coast of Java. Between 80 and 120 people, most of them from the Middle East, were on board the boat. Twenty-eight bodies, many of them women and children, were recovered, but 22 people are still missing.

The survivors looked tired and some were clearly upset as they were welcomed by tearful family members. One of the survivors fainted and had to be helped by a relative to get back on his feet while a woman welcomed her son by shouting repeatedly, "God be praised" before breaking down in sobs.

"All I remember is seeing the sky, and then I was in the water," Mr Louai Baghdadi, 25, told AFP.

Mr Baghdadi, from the Beddawi area near the northern Lebanese port city of Tripoli, said he swam for half an hour to reach dry land.

"What really breaks my heart is that I saw children floating in the water without being able to help them.

"The children died because they were starving. There was no more food on the ship," he said, red-eyed and hugging his mother.

Mr Baghdadi expressed fury at Lebanon, which has for years been plagued by political and sectarian divisions. The problems have been aggravated by the conflict in neighbouring Syria, which has divided Lebanon's political establishment.

Lebanon has not had a government for six months because of a political standoff between a faction led by the Shi'ite Hezbollah movement, which backs the Syrian regime, and another which backs the uprising.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.