CHITTAGONG, BANGLADESH // Only a mother who has lost her only child can know such grief.
Mohammed Arif Uddin, 22, left home three years ago to find work in the UAE as a painter and decorator. That was the last time his mother saw him. He returned today in a brown, plywood coffin.
Mohammed’s mother, Noor Nahar Laki, 42, walked unsteadily towards the unloading dock at Chittagong airport, supported by two relatives. She beat her chest and chanted: “If you were here, I would feed you rice with my own hand. But you are gone now, from this cruel world.”
Other families mourned too. Aziz Ul Haq grieved for his two nephews, Mohammed Masud Rana and Khorshed Ul Alam.
“They did so much for everyone and nothing came of them,” cried Mr Haq, wiping away tears, and beating his head while clutching a laminated photograph of one of the brothers. “Why this punishment? Why? Why?”
Sadar Majumdar greeted the coffin of his uncle, Siraj ul Islam Majumdar. “We wanted to make sure we were all here for him,” Sadar said, “but the women of the family are too devastated to come, they have taken ill.”
Dozens of relatives gathered around a table set up in the car park of the airport, where officials from Bangladesh’s foreign affairs ministry verified the names of the dead before giving out cheques for 35,000 taka (Dh1,644) to each of the victims’ families to pay for burial and funeral expenses.
Seven ambulances lined up, backing into the crowds that gathered around the coffins. Relatives were asked to stand in front of the coffins and fill out paperwork. Soon, wailing filled the air.
“My brother, that is my brother,” cried Mohammed Jehangir Alam, 29, as police lifted the coffin of Bohra Uddin, 26, and placed it in an ambulance.
Then the convoy of ambulances, sirens blaring, filled with grieving family and friends, drove off from the Chittagong airport, Shah Amanat International.
Four of the bodies were taken to Fatickchari, a town 44 kilometres north of Chittagong city.
A prayer meeting was organised on the grounds of Coronation High School, after which the families conducted their personal funerals. Four of the ambulances were parked in the middle of a crowd of more than 3,000 men.
“They sacrifice their lives for their families. These are the ones who send money home and into their bank accounts, and now we have to make sure they are well taken care of,” said ATM Pearul Islam, assistant secretary of the Bangladesh Awami League central sub committee.
The seven men whose bodies were flown home to Bangladesh today died last week when a lorry ploughed into the back of the bus in which they were travelling to work on the E30, the Old Truck Road, next to Al Rawda Palace on the outskirts of Al Ain.
Of the 21 men killed in the crash on February 4, 19 were from Bangladesh. The remaining 12 bodies will be flown to Dhaka and Sylhet in Bangladesh over the next week.
There are an estimated one million migrant workers from Bangladesh in the UAE, most of them working in the informal sector, according to the Bangladesh embassy in the UAE.