Dying abroad

If a family member dies in a foreign country, the paperwork and expenses associated with repatriation can make the terrible event even worse

Monica Sharma

IN December, Jatinder Singh Brar, 25-year-old from Faridkot in Punjab, was on cloud nine after completing masters in accounting in Australia. But his and his family's happiness was shortlived as Brar was killed in a road accident at Salisbury South, Adelaide, on January 4.

Brar was driving a delivery truck, which was run off the road by a woman driver and he died on the spot. But his family’s agony did not end here as it had to undergo the long and complex process of repatriation. The Indian community there raised funds and completed documentation to help Brar’s family. Despite this, his mother, in India, had to wait for 10 days to see the body of his beloved son.

Brar’s case again points out that if a relative dies in a foreign country, the paperwork and expenses associated with repatriation can make a terrible event even worse. Bobby Sambhy says, “Repatriation involves a specific procedure and a lot of paperwork. It is a tough time for any family that has to get the body back from overseas.”

Documents needed for repatriation include a medical report or death certificate and a police report in case of accidental or unnatural death. To send the body back home, a consent letter from the closest family member is required along with a copy of passport and visa of the dead. The family needs to inform the Indian consulate and clearances are also required from immigration departments. It is important that the one should check about insurance in the countries he/she is visiting to cover extreme situations. 

Manjit Singh Boparai, a social activist from Brisbane, has helped many in repatriating bodies. Since 2008, Boparai has assisted in the repatriation of 52 bodies from across different parts of Australia to India. He says, “I don’t want that anyone should suffer in the hour of grief. Losing the loved one is terrible...no one (body) should be left unclaimed in a foreign land. The task of repatriating mortal remains to the homeland is costly and complex. Generally, we reach out to the community to generate funds through gurdwaras, temples and social media.”

He says repatriating a body from an area which does not have an airport requires even more time and funds. A special coffin is arranged and embalming is done. The process on an average costs $7,000-$12,000. “Repatriating a body from Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne is easier due to better frequency of flights. The delay adds up with some cities not having an Indian consulate as the procedure of cancellation of passport and issuance of a health certificate has to be followed before sending the body back home.”

Samandeep Singh Brar, Brar’s cousin, says, “It was a tough time for the family. My cousin had come to Australia in 2012 and was doing well. We had never imagined that we would have to take his body back home. I thank the Indians in Australia who helped us in this hour of grief. They assisted us in completing the procedure.”  

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