At least five cremation facilities have opened this year in the UAE to ease burial procedures for non-Muslim expatriates. The new facilities are surely a step in the right direction and will help to lessen the pain that many expatriates experience when a relative dies. But the process of repatriation still must be improved.
As The National reports today, a new cremation facility, mainly for Hindus and Sikhs, is being built in Sharjah to ease the process of repatriation. Naturally, the construction will take a while and the delay highlights the problems that many families now face.
The only operating crematorium for the past five years had been the Dubai Hindu temple, but only residents in Dubai could legally use it. The restrictive burial laws forced families, in some cases, to cremate their dead on unlicenced pyres. In Al Ain, we have reported on corpses being cremated near landfills, a practice that police have curbed since the crematorium opened there.
Not every family can afford to send their dead home, and the process can be complicated. For Muslims, it is relatively easy. If a Muslim family cannot send a loved one back to their own country, they can give permission to the morgue to bury it - local burial is free of charge. For non-Muslims, some religious stipulations on cremation can complicate the issue.
To help families, Abu Dhabi New Medical Centre - which had arranged cremations on an ad hoc basis - often waives the costs of cremation or repatriation. But authorities would do well to streamline rules governing burial, cremation and repatriation. The last thing a grieving family wants to go through is a bureaucratic maze. Until facilities are available in all emirates, for example, non-Muslims must be allowed to cremate bodies in any facility in the country.
Burial should not be tied to residency visa. Admittedly, this might present logistical challenges, but certainly in cases of bereavement more bureaucratic efficiency is needed as a simple act of compassion.
And for families that want to repatriate their dead, they should not have to gain clearance from multiple authorities. Bureaucratic hurdles in the case of bereavement are all the worse because most families will not be prepared.