Death in a foreign country: how Tangiers ensures bodies get home

A phone call in the middle of the night.

We regret to inform you there’s been an accident…

There can’t be much worse than finding out a loved one working abroad has lost their life.

But the shock and grief we would expect can sometimes give way to a very different emotion: the realisation that getting your loved one home for burial may not be an easy task.

Tangiers International works with global funeral directors and funeral homes to repatriate bodies from some of the most dangerous or least developed regions on earth.

Due to the circumstances of these cases, sensitivity is a prerequisite.

But so is an understanding of how complicated the process can be: medical and legal red tape needs to be overcome, language and cultural barriers navigated, religious customs and international laws reconciled.

And that’s where Tangiers’ expertise in handling complex ground support services comes into its own.

Carlos Hernandez, operations manager for Tangiers, explained that, once notified by an insurance company, the race began to acquire every single piece of information which would be necessary to retrieve the body.

He said: “The first step is asking: which country are we repatriating to? Then, which funeral directors are we dealing with? We need someone who knows what they are doing.

“We need to get the name of the deceased; to make sure that the person is insured; we need to know the name of the next of kin; where the body is; the cause or circumstances of the death; if there’s going to be an investigation or post-mortem.

“The thing with that is the mortal remains are not released by the coroner until the post-mortem is carried out. That could take different times in different countries.”

Tangiers has more than 100 on-the-ground personnel covering some of the world’s least-hospitable or remote regions. These agents are on-hand to provide crucial support when attempting to repatriate a body.

Carlos continued: “The less-developed the country is, the more difficult it is. Fortunately, in conflict zones like Afghanistan, we have someone on the ground, a field agent, who we may ask to help the funeral directors – to obtain permits, to go to the embassy, etc.

“It has to be done by someone who knows how to deal with the paperwork locally.

And, as with anything involving governments, health departments, and national borders, paperwork is a vitally important part of the process.

“We need to make sure that they obtain all the necessary documentation for the mortal remains to leave, say, Afghanistan legally and to enter, say, the USA legally.

“When the body arrives in the USA, it gets stopped by customs and they will look at everything. It has to be in order for it to clear customs and be allowed into the country.”

When dealing with the death of a civilian contractor in a foreign land, Tangiers understands  that for the families waiting at home to mourn their dead, time is of the essence.