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Transport rule delays repatriation of bodies.

Summary: Dubai Municipality's new rule to transport bodies of deceased expats only to Dubai airport leading to issues, say social workers

The Embalming Centre at the Medical Fitness Centre in Muhaisnah 2. Dubai Municipality has stopped inter-emirat Image Credit: Arshad Ali/Gulf News Ashraf, left, and CP Mathew Image Credit: Arshad Ali and Virendra Saklani/Gulf News Sajila Saseendran, Senior Reporter

Dubai: Bodies of expatriates embalmed in Dubai are no longer offered an ambulance transport service to airports in other emirates, leading to delays in the repatriation process, social workers said.

Dubai Municipality has stopped inter-emirate transfer facility for expats' bodies. The cemetery services section in Al Ghusais is no longer providing ambulance service to transport expats' mortal remains to airports in other emirates.

The change in rule has mainly affected Dubai, Sharjah, Umm Al Quwain and Fujairah, said Ashraf Thamarassery, a Dubai-based social worker and businessman who has been honoured by the Indian government for his selfless service in repatriating thousands of deceased expats.

"All these emirates depend on the DHA (Dubai Health Authority) facility in Al Muhaisnah for embalming of the bodies," he said. These emirates don't have an embalming facility.

"Dubai Municipality's ambulance is used for transporting the bodies to the airport after embalming. Now, the service is only to Dubai airport."

The Dubai Municipality's ambulance service to transport the bodies to other emirates was stopped almost a year ago. Social workers said they had earlier this year helped families to transport the bodies to Sharjah airport with the help of ambulances from Sharjah Municipality and Dubai Police after giving special requests. However, they claimed they were not allowed to use Sharjah Municipality's ambulance to take the bodies back after embalming since the past few months.

In effect, this means, that the body has to be repatriated only from Dubai airport because medically equipped ambulances from DHA or private hospitals cannot be used for transporting embalmed bodies. Since the Dubai Muncipality ambulance is the only means of transport, it means the body can only be repatriated from Dubai airport.

Due to this restriction, Thamarassery said, expatriates are facing several difficulties. There could be no direct flight to the deceased's hometown from Dubai and sometimes there is no space available for cargo or no ticket for the person accompanying the body or the tickets are costlier (for the deceased's relatives) from Dubai, he said explaining why expats repatriate from other airports.

No such inter-emirate transport restrictions affects repatriation of bodies embalmed in Abu Dhabi, Al Ain or Ras Al Khaimah, Thamarassery said.

"There are several instances when people want to fly the bodies from Sharjah. You can bring the bodies embalmed in Abu Dhabi to Sharjah, but not from Dubai. And the Sharjah Municipality's ambulance also cannot transfer the body from Dubai," he said.

Free service in other emirates

Ashraf said the Sharjah Municipality officials had agreed to send an ambulance to pick up embalmed bodies from Dubai after the issue was taken up with officials there. However, Sharjah ambulances are not allowed to transport bodies from Dubai. "Sharjah Municipality is providing the service for free whereas Dubai Municipality charges Dh220 for the ambulance transport."

No other municipality or police departments are charging for the transportation of the bodies, according to Thamaraserry.

The only other authority which comes to the rescue of distressed relatives at such times is Dubai Police, he said.

"But it is not primarily their job and it is not possible for them to do it every time," he added, requesting the Dubai Municipality to reconsider its decision.

"All must be equal at least when they are dead-The rules should be even more relaxed in death cases," he said.

Echoing his views, another Indian social worker, C.P. Mathew, said he has personally seen how expats face difficulties in repatriation if they couldn't fly to an airport close to their homes.

"Sometimes people have to wait for several hours for a connecting flight. Sometimes, they have to travel 10 to 12 hours via road," said Mathew, who has escorted several bodies to India.

"Sometimes there is a difference of thousands of dirhams between the fares of budget carriers from Sharjah and airlines flying from Dubai. When ticket fares are costlier [from Dubai], people would want to opt for cheaper flights from Sharjah." The new rule makes it difficult for people to do that now, particularly for those who are financially constrained, he said.

Dubai Municipality response

When contacted, Dr Zuhoor Al Sabbagh, director of the Public Health Services Department, Dubai Municipality which manages the cemetery facility and ambulance services for the deceased, confirmed the implementation of the change in the rule.

"Our duty is to transfer bodies anywhere in Dubai and within Dubai. At embalming, the DHA and police are responsible [if the body is being transferred from a police morgue, the police are responsible for transferring the body to the embalming centre and if it is coming from a hospital the DHA is responsible]. The delay is not from our side. We have no information about the delays as we have performance indicators measuring the time to transport bodies," she said in a written reply to Gulf News.

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Publication:Gulf News (United Arab Emirates)
Date:Aug 20, 2016
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