RIP-off? Rising repatriation cost of bodies worries expats

Energy Tuesday 08/January/2019 21:31 PM
By: Times News Service
RIP-off? Rising repatriation cost of bodies worries expats

Muscat: Social workers in Oman say they will struggle to raise funds for the repatriation of the dead bodies of Asian expat workers in the Sultanate, after some airlines have decided to increase the fees required to transport them home by more than 30 per cent.
Many flag carriers of the countries of the main expat communities in Oman charge a fee for the repatriation of bodies back home. This is in addition to the other costs incurred by the friends and families of those who pass away in the country, for procedures such as the post-mortem, embalming and other formalities.
“It will be a flat rate of OMR160 on all mortal remains irrespective of the destination and weight of the body,” said a senior Air India official while speaking to Times of Oman. The official added that in case the remains of children needed to be repatriated, the cost would be OMR80.
A top manager at Biman Bangladesh airlines added, “If the embassy writes to us and tells us not to charge for the repatriation of the body, then we will not charge for it, but otherwise, it can cost between OMR80 and OMR100. The rest of the charges, such as embalming, will still need to be paid for, and that can cost about OMR350.”
Sri Lankan Airlines also has a rate for the repatriation of remains. A representative for the airline said, “We follow the IATA (International Air Transport Association) guidelines, and in keeping with this, we charge OMR2 per kg. The weight of the body may be anywhere from 50 to 90 kgs, so the fee will vary accordingly. Most of the Sri Lankan nationals who work overseas have insurance from the government, so this cost is taken care of by them.”
He added, “If there is a need to pay something, then the community gets together, or we have to refer this to our head office. We also work very closely with the Sri Lankan embassy in Oman to help with these cases.”
However, repatriating the bodies of Pakistani and Filipino nationals who have passed away in Oman is far cheaper.
Shahzad Paracha, country manager for Pakistan International Airlines in Oman, said, “We do not charge any money for the repatriation of bodies of overseas Pakistanis. This is a service that is provided by the government, free of cost. Even if there is no direct flight to the person’s hometown, we ensure that the body gets there safely. People who are sending the body home only need to pay the airline tax, and that is about OMR20.”
Ed Lora, Chairman of the Filipino community social club, added, “In case of a member’s death, his/her immediate relatives will automatically receive OMR100 plus voluntary contributions from different affiliate groups. If the member is outside the Sultanate or on annual leave, a copy of the death certificate or confirmation from his/her immediate relatives is required in order to avail of death aid from us.”
“The cost of repatriation is borne by the Filipino government,” he added. “If the cause of death is natural or an accident, what they will do is first coordinate with the employer. All of us here have medical and life insurance. The insurance will be used for this and the repatriation will be organised by the government.”
But PM Jabir, community welfare secretary at the Indian Social Club, said that the governments of all expats’ home countries needed to pay for this service and all the other formalities required.
“There is a post-mortem, the embalming, it is a total cost of OMR500 if one dies,” he explained. “The embassy used to issue letters to Air India Express asking them to take the mortal remains free of charge in cases of destitute people, but there are now restrictions on that as well. My argument is, who defines who is destitute, and why is this money being used only to help destitute cases? This must be done to help whoever dies.”
“Sometimes, we are told that the person in question is not a destitute, but we as social workers find it very difficult to collect money from the friends of the deceased, because there is no provision for us to give funds directly under local laws,” added Jabir. “The Indian government has to take steps to repatriate these bodies free of cost.”
Jabir has been personally involved in the repatriation of over 3,500 bodies over the last 30 years, and has for a long time asked the Indian government to waive the fees required to send people’s remains home.
“For many years, we have been asking the Indian government to airlift all the mortal remains of the Indian workers in foreign countries, free of cost to the families,” he said. “They used to charge a fee of OMR26 as handling charges at the embassy before we made so many representations and this was taken away about 15 years ago. Like this, we have been asking for repatriation as well.”
“There is a huge community welfare fund collected from migrant workers and foreign earners,” added Jabir. “This is a compulsory fee of OMR1 per document processed. Every embassy has its own community welfare fund, and the Indian government also has provisions for this in their budget. Even six or seven years ago, there was a surplus of OMR130,000 in this fund in Oman alone, so this could now amount to OMR200,000 or more. This fund is used for about nine or 10 reasons, one of which is repatriation.”
An official from the Indian Embassy in Oman also shed light on what the embassy could do to repatriate bodies to their home countries.
“Our role is limited, because once the hospital declares that the person is dead, they issue a death certificate,” said the official. “Once done, we register the death in the Indian Embassy, and based on the wishes of the family, we issue a no-objection certificate for airlifting the mortal remains.”
“On this basis, the sponsor gets clearance and this then goes to the airlines so they can issue the body,” he added.
“In many cases, we facilitate the needs of the family. If the sponsor is doing everything and he has a PRO who can complete local governmental formalities, we don’t intervene, but if somebody is here on a visit visa, and something unfortunate happens, then we coordinate with the various authorities.”
The embassy also remains on standby to attend to such cases at all hours of the day. “Even if the embassy is closed, we open it up to facilitate their needs. For many of them, this is the first time they have to deal with such unfortunate circumstances, so even if we need to issue documents on a public holiday, or late at night, we do so,” added the official.
According to data from the National Centre for Statistics and Information, there are 662,360 Indians and 661,196 Bangladeshi nationals in Oman. There are also 218,738 Pakistanis, 47,688 Filipinos and 20,732 Sri Lankans in the country.