An expat’s death isn’t just a painful experience for family back home but it turns out to be a harrowing one for friends, beloved ones or colleagues here in the UAE.
It takes a while to get the formalities of paperwork done and for an Indian expat, there is an additional cost for transporting the body back to India. Airlines charge between Dh16 to Dh25 per kg, which includes weight of the body and coffin.
MM Nasar Kanhangad, a social worker who has been helping with repatriation process for years now, said the practice is agonising and is a big challenge.
“In most cases where a blue collar worker is involved we will come to know of their death a day or two later. I will run for the paperwork and then we also need to raise money for the air tickets,” Kanhangad said while narrating cases of the deaths of poor workers like Beeraka Pushpavati, a house maid, and Vipan Singh, a mould maker, where he had to seek help from the Indian Embassy and social welfare associations to meet the requirements.
“The charges vary from airline to airline. The overall costs range between Dh2,500 to Dh3,000. Friends of the deceased, can barely manage the amount, which is equivalent to one to two months’ of their salary. Indian government must look into this issue,” Kanhangad said while highlighting the role played by the Indian Embassy to help the expats.
Indian Ambassador Navdeep Singh Suri noted that the embassy through its Indian Community Welfare Fund has been providing assistance to the needy.
“The embassy has been doing this on a regular basis for all those who can’t afford. Be it embalming of the body, expense of coffin or air ticket, the embassy has always stepped in,” the ambassador said.
Suri clarified that with the population of Indian expats in the UAE totaling to 3.5 million that it hadn’t been possible for the mission to provide financial help in every case.
“We can’t force an airline to change its policy. We continue to help those in need,” the ambassador noted.
In this regard, Abu Dhabi-based social worker N Harikumar has been raising the issue at various forums for a while. “This is a painful thing. Majority of people cannot afford the costs. So, the Indian government must act,” said Harikumar, who is India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s NRI Cell Kerala convener.
Meanwhile, BJP’s Kerala president Kummanam Rajasekharan, on a short visit to the UAE, said that the issue has been raised with the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
On March 30, Rajasekharan met Modi and tabled the grievances of the expats. He is hopeful about the issue getting addressed soon.
“On Tuesday, I spoke to VK Singh, India’s Minister of State for External Affairs. I have requested him that, just like how Pakistan bears the expenses for the bodies of the expatriates to be repatriated back, India too should take a similar step,” Rajasekharan added.