SEPANG, Malaysia – Families of Malaysians aboard Flight MH17 urged authorities on Sunday to bring back the remains of their loved ones amid concerns over access to the crash site in strife-torn eastern Ukraine.
The Malaysia Airlines jet is believed to have been shot down by a surface-to-air missile on its way from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur with 298 people aboard. On Saturday, Malaysia said vital evidence at the site had been tampered with, calling it a betrayal of the lives lost in the disaster and urging full access to the site.
Of the people aboard, 193 were from the Netherlands and 43 from Malaysia, including the 15 crew members. Zulkifli Abdul Rahman, the brother-in-law of MH17 chief flight attendant Azrina Yakob, said the family wanted to get the mother-of-two's remains to bury her.
"Her mother's wish is for the remains to be brought back so that we can have a proper burial so that over time the children can visit the tombstone," the 54-year-old project manager told AFP at the family's home near Kuala Lumpur airport. "At this current moment I hope the world can assist the families to bring back the remains."
Azrina and her husband's wedding portrait hung on a wall of the entrance hall to the single-storey house. In the living room, a model plane hung from the ceiling with three others, including a Malaysia Airlines jet, sitting on a cabinet shelf. Zulkifli said Azrina and her family had planned to go to northern Malaysia to celebrate Eidul Fitr at the end of Ramazan.
Azrina, 41, had been working for Malaysia Airlines for about 20 years. "Her husband has told the children (a boy, six, and a girl, three) that their mother won't come back: 'Mummy is not coming back. The plane she was on has exploded'," Zulkifli said. "We were shocked by the news... Without her, this (Eid) will not be as happy as before... But as Muslims we have to accept (it) and move forward."
About a dozen family members were sitting cross-legged on the floor when an AFP reporter visited the home on Sunday. Many looked sombre and talked quietly among themselves as a steady stream of relatives and friends were seen entering and leaving the home, in a residential area where many Malaysia Airlines staff live. A relative of another family killed in the crash said they too hoped to receive the remains of their loved ones.
Asfarina Kartika, 28, lost her cousin Ariza Ghazalee, who was aboard MH17 with her husband Tambi Jiee and four children. "Our main concern is for the bodies and any other remains to be brought back to Malaysia for a proper funeral because we are Muslims so at least there is a grave for us to visit. "It's very sentimental for us," she said when met at a hotel near the airport where the airline has opened a counselling centre.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has vowed to do "our best to bring back the victims of the tragedy." A top Ukrainian rebel leader said on Sunday that the fighters in the area of the crash would guarantee the safety of international monitors at the site if Kiev agreed to a truce.