THE COST OF DYING ABROAD FOR CENTRAL ASIANS  Relatives struggle with red tape 
and obstructive officials to bring the bodies of dead migrant workers home from 
Russia.  By Anora Sarkorova in Dushanbe and Jipara Abdrakhmanova in Bishkek


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Relatives struggle with red tape and obstructive officials to bring the bodies 
of dead migrant workers home from Russia.

By Anora Sarkorova in Dushanbe and Jipara Abdrakhmanova in Bishkek

When his son’s body turned up in a Moscow morgue in February this year, Nazar 
Davlatov’s nightmare had only just begun.

As well as being faced with the reality of 22-year-old Rasul’s death, Davlatov 
had to cope with transporting his remains almost 3,000 km home to Tajikistan so 
he could be buried in his native soil.

Father and son had gone to Moscow to work on building sites a few months 
earlier, and Rasul had gone missing in January. 

The circumstances of his death remain a mystery, but a post mortem showed he 
had been beaten and had multiple stab wounds.

Davlatov relied on friends to help him collect the reams of paperwork needed 
before he could take home his son home. 

“I had only been in Russia for a few months and didn’t know how to arrange all 
the documents to obtain the body from the morgue and the rest of the 
procedure,” he said.

The distressed father was helped by a friend, who paid the morgue 12,000 rubles 
– about 460 US dollars– to provide a special zinc coffin, embalm the body and 
obtain all the necessary documents.

The morgue released the remains a day later, with precise instructions. “When 
we received the body at the morgue, we were told that it had already decomposed 
slightly, and that we should not open the coffin at all,” he said.

The first leg of the journey was straightforward. “We got the agreement of the 
Tajik airline company in Moscow to fly the coffin to Dushanbe. They did not 
take any money from us,” said Davlatov.

But his difficulties began as soon as he reached customs at Domodedovo airport 
south of Moscow. Although he had all the necessary paperwork, the customs 
officers would not let the coffin through. 

To Davlatov’s horror, they demanded to look inside at his son’s remains.

“When we checked the coffin in at customs, they demanded we open it, and told 
us that this was in the interests of flight safety,” he said.

The party was eventually allowed through without opening the coffin after 
Davlatov’s friend bribed an official, but the father was appalled at this 
attempt to make money out of tragedy.

“Whether they really do open coffins in such cases, I don’t know, but it was 
inhumane to see people making money from other’s misery… The only thing I 
wanted at that moment was to get home as quickly as possible,” he said.


As Central Asians attempt to escape the poverty of their countries by going to 
work in comparatively prosperous Russia, Nazar Davlatov’s experience is 
becoming increasingly common.

There are no official figures on the numbers of migrants who die in Russia each 
year, but with the number of Central Asians working there estimated to be one 
million and rising, the number is likely to be high.

Depending how the migrants are counted, there are anything between 400,000 and 
a million or more Tajiks working in Russia, from 300,000 to 700,000 Kyrgyz 
nationals, and large numbers of Uzbeks as well.

According to the Tajik labour ministry, at least 100 bodies have been 
transported back from Russia so far in 2007. But Gavhar Juraeva, the head of a 
legal aid centre at the Tajik Foundation in Moscow, estimates that the real 
figure is probably closer to 300.

“Labour migration is so extensive that it is impossible to count the number of 
dead,” said Juraeva.
In Kyrgyzstan, the head of the government committee for migration and 
employment, Aigul Ryskulova, also reports a rise in migrant workers dying 

“The statistics are frightening – last year we received reports of no less than 
30 fatalities among labour migrants,” she said.

In Uzbekistan, where government press restrictions mean information that might 
reflect badly on the authorities goes unreported, there is no official data on 
the number of nationals who die abroad. But in the last two years, 30 deaths of 
Uzbek migrant workers have been reported in the Russian press.

As labour migrants are by definition of working age, there is a higher than 
usual proportion of work-related fatalities compared with death from old age. 
Most of the people interviewed for this report said that their relatives died 
either in work-related accidents, or were killed after being physically 

New rules banning non-Russian nationals from working as market traders – a 
traditional occupation for people from Central Asia and the Caucasus – mean men 
tend to work in the construction industry, where accidents are more common. 

Uzbek, Tajik and Kyrgyz workers area also at risk from the rise in racist crime 
in Russia. Just last month, Kyrgyz migrant worker Aijigit Tashtanbekov was 
killed in an axe attack by local skinheads in the Russian town of Mytishchi.


Some Central Asians whose relatives die in Russia decide to bury them there 
rather than attempt the long journey home – a trend reflected in the growing 
number of Muslim cemeteries appearing in predominantly Christian Russia.

But many find the costs too high. The father of 36-year-old Mirbek 
Shahabiddinov, a Kyrgyzstan national, wanted to bury him in the Siberian city 
of Irkutsk where he had spent the past eight years. Shahabiddinov was murdered 
in summer 2006 – his attacker cut his throat in an apartment entranceway before 
tossing his body into a river.

His father could not meet the cost of the burial – almost 1,300 dollars - and 
instead opted to bring the body home to the Osh region in the south of 
Kyrgyzstan, which proved to be not much cheaper in the end.

“Because the body was practically decomposing, we had to rush. The flight alone 
cost almost 700 dollars, and I went into debt to give my son a decent burial,” 
he said.


For families like Shahabiddinov who choose to bring their relative’s remains 
home, there is little help on offer from authorities.

Returning a body from Russia is awkward, complicated and expensive. Some bodies 
of migrant workers are flown home in the cargo holds of passenger planes, while 
others go via bus or train.

But before the journey can even begin, there are many preparations to be made, 
and forms to be obtained – including death, sanitary and epidemiological 
certificates, as well papers to identify the body.

There are seemingly endless expenses, from the cost of the morgue to 
undertakers’ services which include embalming the body and sealing it in a 
special zinc coffin to stop it decomposing on the long journey home. 

There are also transport costs, not just for the body, but also for those 
accompanying the remains. Russian airlines charge by the kilogram to transport 
the coffins. The total cost vary from region to region and can be anything from 
1,100 to 3,000 dollars - an exorbitant fee for most Central Asians.

For Tajik nationals, some help is available. The state airline company 
Tojikiston, which used to foot the bill for flights to transfer bodies home, 
now covers 50 per cent of the costs. Airline representative Nazira Davlatova 
explained that the reduced assistance is due to new rules passed that make it 
compulsory for workers to get insurance before they leave Tajikistan.

A spokesman for the Tajik embassy in Russia, Muhammad Egamzod, said consular 
staff do what they can to help their nationals. “As soon as the relatives come 
to us, we draw up an appropriate letter to the Tajik airline company,” he said. 

The Kyrgyz embassy in Moscow provides an advisory service for bereaved 
relatives, but can offer no financial support.

But Kyrgyz diplomats have successfully lobbied the national carrier, Kyrgyzstan 
Aba Joldoru, which agreed in December 2006 to cover 50 per cent of the cost of 
transporting bodies, while two other Kyrgyz airlines agreed to review their 

A representative of the Uzbek embassy in Moscow said on condition of anonymity 
that the mission lacked the resources to help relatives transport bodies back 
home. Again, it can provide advice to relatives, but cannot help with the costs 
or arrangements.


It falls to bereaved relatives and friends to deal with both the preparations 
and some or all of the costs of transporting a body home.

Moscow has undertakers’ firms which will handle all the arrangements, including 
contacting the morgue, gathering the necessary paperwork, embalming the body, 
providing a zinc coffin, buying airline tickets for relatives, and transporting 
the body to the airport. This comes at a cost of between 18,000 and 50,000 
rubles, or from 700 to 1,900 dollars. 

“Our work is considered done when the plane carrying the body takes off from a 
Russian airport,” said funeral director Liana Aganesova, who said that her 
agency in Moscow offers migrants a special discount if they cannot afford the 
full price.

But in other parts of Russia, there are no embassies to give advice or 
specialist funeral services to oversee arrangements, and migrants are left to 
themselves. If there is no direct flight, the body may have to be transferred 
through another airport. And if the relevant national carrier does not fly from 
the city, no discount is possible.

When Tajik construction worker Mabatkadam Khushkadamov was found dead under 
suspicious circumstances in the Siberian city of Kemerovo, his brother Ali had 
terrible trouble getting him home. 

With no direct flight from Kemerovo to Dushanbe, he had to go through several 
different customs posts and provide a huge number of documents.

“I flew from Kemerovo to Novokuznetsk with my brother’s body. The customs 
officers went through all the formalities. The main thing in these cases is 
money. We paid out around 10,000 rubles [390 dollars] to transport the coffin,” 
he said.

The part of the journey Khushkadamov found most distressing was going through 
customs at Kemerovo airport, when he was forced to explain in great detail what 
had happened.

“I would never have thought it would be so hard or take so long,” he said of 
the journey. “It was unbearably hard on my morale.”

Even more distressing was that the delay in getting home meant his brother’s 
burial didn’t take place for a fortnight.

“Although I was depressed, the only thing I was thinking about was getting his 
body home as soon as possible, as according to Muslim rites, the body of the 
deceased must be consigned to the earth before sunset the next day, and here 
everything had dragged on for two weeks,” said Khushkadamov.


With relatives often forced to make their own arrangements, their lack of 
knowledge of local laws means they are easily exploited.

Khushkadamov initially encountered difficulty in getting his brother’s body out 
of the morgue, as the employees there demanded a vast number of documents 
before they would release the remains – including an official form which has to 
be specially requested from embassies abroad or passport agencies in Tajikistan.

“The morgue staff asked for a certificate of his place of residence and another 
one for his former place of residence - known as Form 1 - but this form is 
never issued to people at all,” he said.

He soon realised that his ignorance of local laws was being exploited.

“This rigmarole dragged on for almost two weeks. Then I realised that the 
morgue employees were simply playing for time. Every day that my brother was in 
the morgue, I was paying 2,000 to 3,000 rubles [80 to 115 dollars], so it’s 
very profitable for them to keep bodies there,” Khushkadamov said.

Uzbek citizen Rafik told IWPR that his brother died after being stabbed, beaten 
and thrown off a train by an unknown gang, while on his way home to Uzbekistan.

He said that the colleagues who arranged to send the body home were cheated 
when they collected the remains from the morgue.

“According to these guys, they had to pay a lot of money to receive the corpse 
from the morgue, as the morgue employees did not want to give up the body 
before conducting a full investigation of the circumstances of death.”

But the “investigation” turned out to be a ruse. After extorting another 
payment, they promptly declared the cause of death to be “accident”, and 
released the body.

Some customs officials also take advantage of the desperation of relatives to 
get their deceased loved ones home by demanding bribes to let them pass.

One Uzbek worker, whose brother fell 15 metres to his death while working on 
the facade of a Moscow skyscraper, struggled to get a death certificate. 

The employer refused to confirm that the accident had happened on his site, as 
he wanted to avoid possible problems with the authorities. The man said this 
caused endless problems as he attempted to transport his brother’s body home to 
the town of Jizzak in Uzbekistan.

He loaded the coffin onto a passenger bus after paying off the driver, which 
took him as far as to the Kazak city of Shimkent.

Because he lacked the necessary paperwork, he had to pay up to 200 dollars at 
each police and customs checkpoint to be allowed through with the body.

>From Shimkent, he got transport to the Kazak-Uzbek border, where things got 
>even worse. The Uzbek border guards did not want to let the coffin into the 
>country with no death certificate, and insisted on looking inside the coffin, 
>arguing that it could contain smuggled goods

The brother refused, as after travelling for three days, the body had begun to 
smell foul. As the guards insisted, crowds of people who had gathered on both 
sides of the border took up his cause.

“The angry crowd began throwing rocks at the Uzbekistan border checkpoint, 
demanding that they let the coffin through,” he said.


With no help from the authorities, limited discounts from airlines, and the 
possibility of numerous bribes to pay along the way, many families struggle to 
meet the costs of taking relatives home.

Nurzat Mamazairov’s brother Nurlan was found dead with a fractured skull in 
January 2007. The 28-year-old from the Osh region of Kyrgyzstan had been 
working on a building site in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg.

The Mamazairov family had enormous difficulty finding close to 2,000 dollars to 
cover the costs of bringing his body home, and eventually his fellow villagers 
clubbed together to find the money.

“It was extremely difficult to get the train conductor to agree to transport 
the body,” recalled Nurzat. “My parents gave their last savings to bring my 
brother’s body home, but that money still wasn’t enough. Thankfully, our fellow 
countrymen helped to find the remaining sum, he said.

Abdulhakim Sharipov, who went to the north of Russia a year ago to work in a 
potato chip factory, was found dead with multiple stab wounds in December 2006. 
He was 26.

His brother Abdurahim transported the body from Perm, which has no direct 
flight to the Tajik capital Dushanbe, through several Russian cities.

He relied on the kindness of friends and other Tajik migrants to raise the 
3,000 dollars to cover the costs of morgue and funeral services and delivery of 
the body.

“I don’t know what I would have done if it hadn’t been for my friends and 
fellow countrymen. They collected the necessary sum,” he said.

Tajik embassy spokesman Egamzod said this practice of collecting money has 
existed for a long time. “In Russia, there are dozens of Tajik public 
associations. The embassy asks them to help collect money. This money is then 
used for funeral preparations,” he explained. 

Bubaisha Arstanbekova, of the Kyrgyz non-government group Akyikat Jolu, said 
this practice is also common among migrant workers from Kyrgyzstan.

“Our diasporas usually have a special fund where migrants make donations for 
cases like these. I should say that at the moment, our migrants receive no 
protection at all from the [Kyrgyz] state, so they usually solve their problems 
themselves,” she said.

Many politicians and non-government groups argue that the authorities should 
take responsibility for transporting migrants home. 

Juraeva believes that relatives have to pay so much in funeral costs that it is 
unfair to expect them to pay 50 per cent of the transport costs, too.

“The cost of funeral services in Moscow varies from 30,000 to 50,000 rubles, 
and in some places it’s higher. The expenses start at the morgue, where they 
ask for 10,000-15,000 rubles instead of 2,000-3,000, expecting people to be 
ignorant of their rights,” said Juraeva.

She argues that the growth of nationalism has led to more racially motivated 
attacks, so the Russian government should pay compensation when such violence 

“If the [Russian] state cannot guarantee the safety of citizens, and crimes are 
committed out of ethnic motives, then the government bears responsibility for 
this. And so I believe that they are obliged to pay compensation,” she said.

In Kyrgyzstan, there is currently no financial support available to transport 
bodies home, but this may soon change. Ryskulova of the state migration 
committee said a government decree is being drafted to allow the costs of 
transporting dead labour migrants back home to be borne by the state. 

“I think the government should take on the obligation of transporting the 
bodies back to the country,” she said.

Igor Gromov, who works at the Kyrgyz migration committee’s foreign labour 
department, said there were difficulties in getting the decree into law.

“The finance ministry has not yet approved the document, saying that the budget 
is in deficit. So for the present, relatives will have to pay for transporting 
[bodies] out of their own pockets, and we will compensate them later,” he said. 

Some, however, argue that workers should behave more responsibly and take out 
insurance before going abroad.

One representative of an international organisation, who wished to remain 
anonymous, told IWPR that the problem would be solved at a stroke if the labour 
migrants had adequate insurance.

But Kubanychbek Isabekov, the deputy speaker of the Kyrgyz parliament who 
previously headed its commission on labour migration, argues that will be hard 
to enforce, as many workers go off to Russia with only casual arrangements in 

“Many workers not only refuse to take out medical insurance, but go to work 
without a contract with the firm that hires them, without the necessary 
documents and without even paying for the train tickets to go to Russia,” he 


As long as there is a lack of opportunity at home, Central Asians will continue 
to travel Russia to find work, whatever the risks involved.

Nurzat Mamazairov recently left for Yekaterinburg, even though his brother met 
such a violent death there four months ago.

“Nurlan left a wife and two children. How can his family and my elderly parents 
be fed? I thought it over, and then went to Yekaterinburg to work in place of 
my brother.”

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