The family of an Iranian-Canadian student killed when Iran shot down a Ukrainian passenger plane is pleading with the Canadian government for help in obtaining his remains, which they say are being held by Iran’s government.
A relative of Amir Hossein Saeedinia claims the family is being intimidated by Iranian officials for speaking to the media and that Iran is refusing to release his body.
“We just want Canada to help us,” said the relative, who Global News is not identifying over safety concerns.
Saeedinia, 26, was scheduled to begin his PhD in mechanical engineering at the University of Alberta, according to the school. He was among the 176 passengers and crew on board Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 when it was shot down by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.
For three days Iran repeatedly denied allegations that a missile had brought down the plane, but in the face of growing evidence, officials admitted Saturday that its Revolutionary Guard had shot down the plane by mistake amid heightened military tensions with the United States.
Of the 176 passengers, 138 were headed for Canada, but it’s unclear how many were permanent residents or travelling on student visas.
Canada has said 57 of the victims were Canadian citizens.
Alinejad, who also works as a women’s rights campaigner in Iran, told Global News she has spoken with several families that aren’t able to recover the remains of loved ones.
“All of them are telling me that security forces went to their house and warned them, ‘If you give any interviews to journalists or media, then we won’t give the bodies of your beloved ones back,’” she said.
In Iran, a majority-Muslim country, it’s customary for remains to be buried immediately after death. Officials have said the process to identify loved ones will be difficult due to the nature of the crash and will require DNA or dental records.
Alinejad said the families are looking for assistance from the Canadian government to help recover the remains so they can either be brought home to Canada or buried in Iran. She posted a video Monday on social media of a mother of an Iranian-Canadian killed in the downed flight and called on Canada for help.
The repatriation process could also be complicated by the fact that Iran does not recognize dual citizenship and Iranian authorities may not allow the bodies to be returned home, according to Alinejad.
“It’s horrible,” she said.
Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne called the allegations of harassment “disturbing” and said his office is looking into the matter.
“Canada is deeply concerned by reports of Iranian authorities pressuring Iranian-Canadians not to repatriate remains to Canada,” Champagne said in a statement. “Our absolute priority is to assist the victims families affected by this terrible tragedy.”
“The Iranian government must respect the will of the families when in comes to the repatriation of the bodies: this is a message that the Minister of Foreign Affairs has conveyed directly to his Iranian counterpart,” he said. “We will continue to emphasize this issue with our allies at the meeting of the International Coordination and Response Group for the victims of flight PS752 in London this Thursday.”
Canada has confirmed that Canadian investigators are getting their first chance to visit the crash site outside of Tehran on Tuesday as part of an international team looking into the downed jet.
“We are also committed to working with international partners to ensure a thorough and credible investigation into how such a horrific tragedy could have occurred,” Champagne said in a statement.
“Prime Minister Trudeau has spoken with Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani directly and clearly stated that Canada expects and demands full cooperation from Iranian authorities in all respects of access, repatriation and investigation.”
Global Affairs said in a statement that consular officials are now on the ground in Tehran and families can reach the Standing Rapid Deployment Team (SRDT) in Iran at +98 905 778 9710 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told Global News in an exclusive interview that if there had been no military escalation between Iran and the U.S., “those Canadians would be right now home with their families.”
“This is something that happens when you have conflict and war,” Trudeau said. ”Innocents bear the brunt of it and it is a reminder why all of us need to work so hard on de-escalation, moving forward to reduce tensions and find a pathway that doesn’t involve further conflict and killing.”
Trudeau’s comments come ahead of a meeting Thursday being hosted by Canada in London, U.K., in which officials from Ukraine, Sweden, Afghanistan and the United Kingdom are set to lay out their next steps for pushing for credible answers from Iran and access to black box data.
“Families have very tangible questions like, ‘When can we bring our loved ones home to Canada? How am I going to pay my mortgage? How am I going to get the supports I need, because I can’t go back to work because I just lost my wife and child and I am completely lost,’” Trudeau said.