Cutting through red tape for expats in times of grief

When one is living in a foreign country, the death of a loved one takes on a new dimension altogether as the body has to be repatriated to the home country. This means a whole lot of paperwork has to be dealt with, whether one is in the state of mind to do it, or not.

British businessman Michael Wright, whose mother Margaret died in Dubai in November 2008, told Emirates Business: "Death is a horrible thing at any given time, however, what makes it even worse for an expat is having to send the body to one's homeland. It is really tough having to deal with a mountain of paperwork when all you want to do is mourn your loss."

It all began when Wright received an urgent call from his father telling him to rush to his parents' house. "When I reached their house, my distraught father told me that when he came home from office he found my mother collapsed in a heap on the floor. When he tried to revive her, he realised that she was not breathing."

While waiting for the ambulance to arrive, Wright also tried to revive his 60-year-old mother with CPR and chest compressions, but nothing worked.

"The ambulance ride was a real nightmare due to the insensitivity of the people on the roads," Wright said. "I was riding in the front of the ambulance while my father and wife were in the back with my mother where the paramedics were trying to revive her. Would you believe it, the people would not get out of the way? I was so livid and I could not believe that people were so uncaring that they would not give way to an ambulance! It was the longest journey of my life."

At the hospital the doctors did their level best to revive Wright's mother, but after an hour or so they informed him that all their efforts had not paid off as she had died at home of a heart attack.

Wright recalled: "When the doctors told me she was dead I went numb with grief. I could not even begin to imagine a life without her. The next morning I realised that now I had this huge task of repatriating her body for burial in our hometown in Southport as she would have liked that. However, I did not even know where to start. I was completely ignorant of how to  go about the repatriation as it was not something that I had ever even considered or done before."

Thankfully, on the night that Wright's mother passed away, a nurse handed Wright a leaflet for a repatriation and funeral consultancy services company in Dubai called Gulfglobal Repatriations and Funeral Consultancy Services (Grafco).

John Korah, Managing Director, Grafco, told this newspaper: "When a loved one dies in your own country you have a lot of people around you to do whatever little paperwork is required for the funeral. However, when a loved one dies in a foreign country, it's a different thing altogether. One's grief is compounded by the worries of paperwork and the nitty-gritty details of repatriating the body to one's homeland or planning a funeral in an alien land. We offer an end-to-end service. Once you have hired us then the only thing you have to do is sign the documents and we take care of everything, right from repatriating the body, to making sure that it reaches the destination of your choice once it arrives in your home country."

The services Grafco provides include getting the death certificate, legal translation, attestation from health and foreign affairs ministries, passport cancellation, release letter from the police department, embalming and dressing the body at the hospital, UAE approval for coffins as cargo, local transportation and ambulance services, repatriation of human remains, clearance at destination airport by their agent and transportation to final destination.

It has tie-ups with logistics companies, funeral homes and insurance companies worldwide and if people want to bury or cremate a loved one in the UAE then they can do that as well.

Korah said: "We will arrange the embalming and dressing of the body and give the family booking assistance for burial ground, florists, church and cremation services and also the ambulance services from morgue to church or crematorium for funeral rituals."

The minimum service charges for Asia are Dh10,000 to Dh15,000, for Europe Dh15,000 to Dh18,000 and for the United States, Canada and Australia Dh20,000 to Dh25,000, with the cost going up with customisation. Even though it does seem a bit steep, people who have used the services say they could not have done it without Grafco's help because the whole process is so cumbersome.

Wright said: "I felt I was in completely safe hands the moment I gave John Korah a call. He was very sympathetic and understanding and completely in control.

"There were issues to be dealt with that I wouldn't have begun  to  imagine,  and  John spent a great deal of time with me explaining the procedures that would need to be gone through with different civic bodies prior to being able to have my  mother released for repatriation.

"Dealing with bureaucracy anywhere in the world is a tough thing at the best of times, but when it comes to having to deal with a mountain of paperwork whilst simultaneously having to deal with your grief, I can't even begin to explain how difficult it becomes to accept.

"John's team got my mother's body repatriated within six days, which was quite fast considering the fact that at the mortuary there were people attempting to repatriate their loved ones, some of whom had been dead for up to five months."

 

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