Forgotten cemeteries lie in disrepair

Most bereaved expatriates have few options in the UAE and choose to send loved ones home, an expensive process.

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ABU DHABI // Bereaved expatriates have been discouraged from burying their dead due to the state of the emirates Christian cemeteries. "I always tell people to go and look at the cemetery before making a decision," said Vivian Albertyn, the director of Middle East Funeral Services. "Personally, I discourage it." Mr Albertyn said most chose to have the remains of loved ones shipped home, a bureaucratic process that could be expensive.

"I try to encourage cremation because its cheaper for them," said Mr Albertyn, but facilities are limited: there are no crematoriums in the emirate of Abu Dhabi, although there is a wood-fired crematorium in Sharjah. "The only other option is the Hindu crematorium in Dubai, where the owners are happy to accommodate non-Hindus whose relatives wanted them to be cremated there," Mr Albertyn said, adding the facilities are clean and dignified. However, the deceased must have been a resident of Dubai and the crematorium refuses to dispose of the bodies of children under the age of five.

Because stillborns must get a proper burial, the UAE's Christian cemeteries contain a high number of foetuses and babies. "The vast majority of the burials that happen are for small children," said the Rev Stephen Wright, who is the head of the Anglican chaplaincy in Dubai. "They're too small to cremate and its too expensive to send their bodies abroad." Shipping a body home can cost up to Dh25,000 (US$6,800) while cremation and shipping costs about Dh15,000, which is about the same as the cost of a burial in the UAE.

In most of the cases Mr Albertyn's company has handled, the deceased had suffered a heart attack. Two-thirds had been repatriated. The other third were cremated with the remaining few buried in the Christian cemeteries. Rev Wright said the committees that oversaw the cemeteries were in the middle of restructuring and, a result, the plots had not been maintained for about two years. "I wouldn't like to be there," he said. "Its not as green as it is in England and not as manicured as it is in the United States. Its desert and as plain and simple as that."