GUA MUSANG, Oct 12 — The families of the missing pupils have not only been emotionally drained by the tragedy but left feeling neglected.
“Welfare is one thing but the fact that we were not informed of the latest updates has angered us,” Nora Tegeu, 39, mother of Ika Ayel, whose body was found by search and rescue (SAR) personnel on Friday, said.
“It is our children who have gone missing and we deserve to be informed first and not those not directly concerned.”
Latip Aban, 45, grandfather of Sasa Sobrie, eight, said they did not receive a formal briefing by authorities on rescue activities.
“Most of the times we asked other villagers to find out if there were any leads,” he said.
He said that when the families arrived from Kampung Simpul, Kampung Gawen and Kampung Penad — 50km and four hours away from Pos Tohoi — after receiving news of the children, they were not even provided with a place to stay.
“We didn’t have any extra clothes and just sat there at the search centre, hoping to hear any news,” he said.
Malay Mail also met with the families of Juvina David, seven, and Linda Rosli, eight, who confirmed they did not receive proper assistance from the authorities.
If it was not for Siti Zabedah Kasim, a lawyer representing the families, they would still be wandering around the entrance of the Gua Musang Hospital as they had no money or accommodation.
Siti Zabedah said she had been managing the families’ accommodation and food, and even bought clothes for them, using donations from friends and well-wishers.
“Is this how the families should be treated?” she said.
Siti Zabedah provided them with accommodation at the Goa Hotel in Gua Musang and had been ferrying them from the search camp to the hospital and back to the hotel daily.
She expressed her dissatisfaction with the Welfare Department and the Orang Asli Affairs Department (Jakoa) for not attending to the families’ needs from day one.
Siti Zabedah said when she asked a high-ranking police officer why the authorities failed to inform the families when the remains of their loved ones were found, the officer told her their priority was to save the remaining children.
“Can’t they spare one officer from Jakoa or the Welfare Department to attend to them?” she asked.
In a statement yesterday, Jakoa director-general Datuk Hasnan Hassan denied the allegations.
“One of the immediate responses we took upon receiving the news was to form an orang asli volunteer unit of 190 people headed by the Kelantan and Terengganu Jakoa directors,” he said.
He said the department had provided food and drinks to the parents and family members of the missing pupils throughout the 47-day mission and even sponsored fuel for their frequent trips between Kampung Gawin and Penad to Tohoi, to check if the children may have run away from their school hostel to their relatives’ homes.
“We also placed officers who are fluent in the Temiar language as translators for the victims’ families and those involved in the mission, as well as arranging accommodation for the victims’ families at their relatives’ homes in Kampung Tohoi,” he said.
“We have done our best for all those involved in the mission, including families and the agencies.
“Therefore, Jakoa is extremely upset with those who try to find fault by making baseless accusations.”
However, Hasnan said the agency was open to suggestions for improvement.