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Sridevi’s death highlights delays in repatriation

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MUMBAI (Reuters) – The death of Indian actress Sridevi in Dubai has highlighted a rarely-discussed issue affecting the families of deceased migrant workers in Gulf countries – long delays in repatriating their bodies.

The 54-year-old superstar died by accidental drowning in her hotel bathtub on February 24. Her body was flown from the United Arab Emirates to India on February 27.

The case has sparked a wider conversation about migrant workers, which many hope will result in shorter wait times for the families of those who die overseas.

Government figures show there are about six million Indian migrants in the Gulf states, and nearly 8000 citizens died overseas last year, mostly in Saudi Arabia and UAE.

Indian officials cite illness and working in high temperatures as the most common causes of death. Complaints of abuse are frequent and in order to save money, many migrant workers do not seek medical attention when they are ill.

The UAE embassy in New Delhi said the procedure for repatriating bodies includes securing a medical notification stating the cause of death.

The deceased person’s passport must also be submitted to authorities, along with official identification of the relative or sponsor – the employer, in the case of migrant workers – who is responsible for repatriation, said the embassy. “In many cases, the body lies in the morgue for days as the employer doesn’t come to claim it,” said Anuradha Vobbiliselty, an advocate who works with migrant workers in Dubai.

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