The government of Abu Dhabi has altered regulations that appear to
encourage the use of a new emirate-funded crematorium over burial or
repatriation of non-Muslim expatriates.
The cost of funerals has been steadily increasing in the United Arab
Emirates (UAE), with coffin prices nearly doubling this year alone. The
families and friends of many expatriate workers who die in the UAE are
also finding that the cost of shipping the bodies back to their home
country is expensive because of the paperwork involved.
But now steps have been taken that authorities say would ease the misery
of mourners by reducing the red tape and permits required and funding
the cremation of dead bodies in a modern crematorium built in Al Ain in
“They have spent a great deal of money on this facility and it is a
state-of-the-art building,” Don Fox, the chief executive of the Al-Foah
Funeral Services in Abu Dhabi, told The Media Line. “No expense has been
spared and it gives an aura of serenity and peacefulness to all of the
people who have been here.”
The facility was built on the orders of Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al
Nahyan, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi and furnaces were lit up for the
first time in mid January. Orders were also given to eliminate a police
clearance certificate for natural deaths and other permits that can
reportedly save up to 1,000 dirhams ($272).
The UAE, a Gulf confederation of seven mini-states, has an enormous
number of foreign residents. Of the 8.3 million people living in the UAE
in 2012, 7.31 million of them (88.5%) are expats, according to the
National Bureau of Statistics. Foreigner workers began arriving in the
Gulf nearly half a century ago when the discovery of oil kicked off a
massive infrastructure construction drive.
Europeans and Asians, as well as citizens from other Arab countries,
have helped turn Abu Dhabi and Dubai from sleepy villages into
international trade and financial centers and tourism destinations. Gulf
nations are heavily reliant on expatriates to do everything from
pouring concrete to running locally-based multinational corporations.
But earlier this year, Forbes magazine reported the UAE, was an “expat
Until the crematorium was built, expats who passed away would either be
boxed up in an expensive coffin to be shipped back to their native lands
for burial or interred locally. The local options for non-Muslims were
old, run down and poorly tended cemeteries.
“This prompted the government to do something and they provided this
marvelous facility,” Fox said, adding that the facility included a
multi-faith church that seats 400 people and was easily accessible from
all of the UAE. Flowers and other special requests, such as live
transmission of funeral services or recorded on DVD, have also become
In Dubai, only caskets sold by the Al-Shindagha Trading Company are
approved for transporting the deceased abroad. But that company nearly
doubled the price of the coffins from 1,200 dirhams to 2,300. The National,
a local daily, reported that the Dubai Health Authority is now trying
to bring down the price because poor people struggle to ship the bodies
of their loved ones home.
“The cost of transporting a body to a country like India comes to more
than 5,000 dirhams with the new rates. It would be good news if the
prices are brought down,” C.P. Matthew, the founder of Valley of Love
voluntary organization, was quoted as saying.
Fox of Al-Foah Funeral Services confirmed that the price of caskets had
doubled. He said that according to international standards of the
Institute of Cemetery and Crematorium Management (ICCM), a coffin is
even required for cremation. He said some of the coffins they used were
custom made, but many were shipped in bulk from abroad.
“Most of them are from China, which seems to be conducting a very thriving business,” Fox said.
Fox said the cost of cremation is considerably less than getting buried
back at home. Some 2,500 human remains are estimated to be repatriated
from Abu Dhabi and Al Ain annually.
“To have somebody cremated here would be approximately a third of the
cost of being repatriated back to their country,” he said. “The reason
it’s cheaper so much is because the actual cremation in Al Ain is free.
This is paid for by the UAE government.”
In a further move to ease the burial process the health authorities and
police agreed that a “no objection certificate” would be required for
any natural deaths, but only if buried locally or cremated.
“One had to have a letter from the police department to release the
body for burial or repatriation. Now for burial or cremation in the UAE
that is not required if the person dies a natural death,” Fox said.
“This eases things up considerably here and makes the procedure a lot
Despite the moves that will likely channel more business to the
crematorium, public awareness among expats in the UAE is still low.
Opened since mid-January, Fox expects business to pick up once their
website becomes active.
“Ninety-nine percent of the public in the UAE are not aware that this
facility is available yet,” Fox said, adding that visits by the
ambassadors of the U.S., European countries and word of mouth would also
help business. “When that website comes up there is going to be quite a
publicity campaign for the benefit of all the populace.”
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