Indian social worker helps thousands of stranded compatriots return home

Over three decades, Shoukat Nass assists in repatriating at least 5,000 dead bodies

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Saudi Gazette

JEDDAH —
Completing the legal formalities of repatriating the remains of the dead is a daunting task anywhere in the world. For many expatriate workers, this is one of the most harrowing experiences of their life when a close friend or relative passes away in the Kingdom.

On the one hand they come under great pressure from repeated phone calls from grieving families back home while on the other they are clueless about how to navigate through the cobweb of government formalities in Saudi Arabia. They desperately run for help to comply with the legal and administrative requirements so that the bodies can be sent home as quickly as possible.

This is where the role of a 60-year-old humanitarian worker from India figures prominently in the expatriate community of the Eastern Province.

Shoukat Nass, hailing from Thiruvananthapuram district of Kerala, has helped thousands of grief-stricken people during his social service spanning more than three decades. From the destitute laborers to the elite in the Indian community come seeking this selfless humanitarian worker. In addition to his own compatriots, Nass has often extended his helping hand to people of other nationalities as well.

Dreadful phone calls mostly from bereaved families abroad have become part of the routine life for Nass throughout the day and even in the middle of night. His normal day starts at 7 a.m. He visits five to six Saudi government offices, where he is a familiar face, to process paperwork on behalf of people who are detained for minor offenses and those who are stranded in the country for various reasons including the expiration of work visas, and in some cases to expedite the repatriation of dead bodies of expatriate workers back home.

Over the years Nass has accumulated invaluable experience and understanding of all legal and administrative procedures in case of a death or deportation. He is well versed in legal matters such as autopsy, forensic and police reports besides having a clear understanding of the Saudi court proceedings, which immensely help him to speedily dispose of dozens of cases that he receives on a daily basis.

Speaking to Saudi Gazette from Dammam, Nass said he had helped repatriate at least 5,000 dead bodies in the last four decades. He said he also assisted more than 25,000 people to go home from various deportation centers and prisons in the Eastern Province cities, mainly Dammam.

“My first visit to a mortuary was 37 years ago. I was accompanying an individual at that time and I didn't know any of the procedures. Later, many others approached me seeking assistance. I gradually started getting involved until it became part of my social responsibility to the community. My employer, Badar Al-Rabi, gave me the go-ahead to become a full-time social worker to help out the bereaved families," explained Nass. "Sometimes, I have attended three repatriation cases on a single day," he said.

Nass regularly visits Dammam airport to drop off sick and destitute individuals. He often travels to distant places in India accompanying ailing people. Recently he accompanied to Hyderabad a patient who had been in a state of coma at a local hospital in Dammam for more than two years.

At one point Nass had to accompany a group of more than 150 deportees to Kochi airport in Kerala.

His tiny apartment always hosts five to six stranded laborers waiting to return home. He personally bails out many sick people and gives them shelter at his home.

“The people I have helped are mostly very poor. My heart breaks when I listen to their stories,” Nass told Saudi Gazette.

Nass recalled the case of a worker from Odhissa in eastern India whose body had been lying in the mortuary for more than two years. The worker's family back home was so poor that they couldn't even afford to pay for the ambulance to ferry the body from the airport to his native village, he said.

Nass said he was able to help many people thanks to the support of the Indian Embassy staff and Saudi officials.

"As long as I am alive, I want to help people in need. I have witnessed so many tragic situations here. When a person's body gets repatriated with some help from my part, the relatives call me to express their thanks. They tell me, 'You will always be in our prayers', and that is my strength and that is my reward," Nass said.


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