Burying the dead during the pandemic

In Russia

Regional authorities are now responsible for funeral arrangements. In accordance with the recommendations of the Ministry of Health of the Russian Federation, those who die from coronavirus are buried in closed coffins with a minimum number of participants in the procession. At the same time, family members and loved ones cannot touch the body. Read more here.

Regarding Muslim funerals, the Spiritual Administration of Muslims in Russia (DUM) issued a fatwa on April 7th 2020 authorizing a special treatment to the deceased from COVID-19. It says that the deceased can be buried directly in the coffin, without a shroud or ritual ablutions, given “the danger of the spread of coronavirus infection and its infection by other people, primarily those who are involved in washing the body of the deceased.” Cremation, usually strictly forbidden in Islam, can be realized in case of compelling circumstances. Read more here.

In Central Asia

Several Muftiyats (Muslim Spiritual Boards) have also issued fatwas formulating the need to adapt funerary rituals to sanitary issues – read here for Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan.

In general, all spiritual administrations have recommended – likewise their Russian counterparts – that relatives of the deceased do not wash the body and bury it in a tightly closed coffin; and that funerals should take place with a small number of close relatives, who should stand at distance from each other. Mortuary bathing can be performed only when sanitary equipment and isolation of the body are made possible.

In Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, close relatives of a person who died from COVID-19 are also put in quarantine. Representatives in Alma-Ata, Kazakhstan, mention that they will provide an isolated burial site out of the city dedicated to victims of COVID-19.

Repatriation of migrants’ bodies from Russia

In early march, activist Karimjon Erov addressed a public letter to official representatives of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan in Russia, asking for support in dealing with the corpses of deceased compatriots in Russia – many of them are usually posthumously repatriated to their homeland. The borders being closed, bodies cannot be easily repatriated, demanding alternative organization and burial sites.

(These problems echo those experienced by diasporas in Europe, see here)

Several organizations in the country (see for example in Tver), formal or informal, are now burying migrants in cemeteries in Russia. Although cemeteries in Moscow and Moscow region remain very expensive, other regions may provide graves in Muslim cemeteries for free.

The first victims of COVID-19 among migrants from Kyrgyzstan in Russia were repatriated to their homeland and have been buried in Jalal-Abad district in a coffin, a week after their death.

A Turkmen student who died in Russia, where she was studying, could not be repatriated to Turkmenistan. Her friends mention the absence of support from the Embassy or the Consulate of Turkmenistan in Russia – a country that provided no information on the spread of the pandemic on its territory. Mid-march nearly 50 Turkmen citizens died in Turkey after drinking bootleg alcohol, in the hope to prevent being sick from COVID-19. Their bodies have not been repatriated to Turkmenistan, they have been buried in one of the two cemeteries dedicated to COVID-19 victims near Istanbul.

Up to now, there are no official figures of victims of COVID-19 among migrants from Central Asia in Russia.


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