Wrong body returned from Cuba to Quebec family after father dies on vacation

MONTREAL — A Montreal-area woman is asking Canadian authorities to help locate her father's body in Cuba after a devastating mix-up that saw her family receive a stranger's remains instead.

Funeral services for Miriam Jarjour's father, Faraj Allah Jarjour, were supposed to happen Sunday and Monday. But instead of laying her father to rest, Jarjour is desperately calling and emailing as many officials as she can, trying to find his body.

"Up until now we have no answers," she said in a phone interview Monday. "Where is my father?"

Jarjour said she was swimming with her 68-year-old father in the ocean near Varadero, Cuba, during a family vacation on March 22 when he suddenly had a heart attack and died.

Because there were no medical facilities, his body was covered and left on a beach chair in the hot sun for more than eight hours until a car arrived to take it to Havana, Jarjour said.

After that, it's not clear what happened.

Jarjour said she followed the directions given to her by the Canadian consulate, and paid $10,000 to have the body returned home to the family in Laval, Que.

However, the casket that arrived late last week contained the body of a Russian man who was at least 20 years younger than Jarjour's father and, unlike him, had a full head of hair and tattoos.

Jarjour says the stranger's body has been sent to his country, but she and her family are no closer to knowing where her father is.

She said that when she contacted the consular authorities, they blamed the company in Cuba that co-ordinated the return of the remains. Since then, she has been emailing other government officials, including her MP, Liberal Annie Koutrakis, who she said agreed to reach out to Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly.

"I'm honestly destroyed," said Jarjour. "Up until now we have no answers. We're waiting. I don't know what to tell you."

Jarjour described her father as an active 68-year-old who didn't smoke or drink. The Syrian-born family man was "always smiling," she said.

The ordeal has left her mother exhausted, she said, while she and her brother are struggling through their own grief while trying to get answers from authorities who all seem to deny responsibility.

So far, the family has spent $25,000, including $15,000 for the funeral services that have been put on hold.

In an email, Global Affairs Canada said consular officials are working with Cuban authorities and the family to resolve the issue. But Jarjour doesn't feel she is getting the answers she needs and is hoping Joly will personally intervene to pressure Cuban authorities.

"What I want is someone to help me find my father," she said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 22, 2024.

Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press