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How coronavirus is affecting BAME and migrants funerals

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Coronavirus is a respiratory disease which has killed over a million people and has affected millions more. The pandemic hasn’t just created more deaths, it has also made it harder for people to grieve for those they’ve lost. Losing a loved one is stressful in itself, as is the added task of arranging a funeral. Throwing in a pandemic has sent many people over the edge. This has been particularly true of migrant and BAME communities.

Stress of arranging funeral

It can take longer to arrange a funeral due to coronavirus,while at the same time a lot of people are having less time to bury a loved one due to the strict rules. Guidance from the government advises that funerals should be attended by a modest number of people, meaning many can't attend these burials of a family member, close relatives or friends. This is particularly hard for many in the migrant communities, who on average have larger families.

For many BAME families, funerals, weddings and initiation celebrations in some traditions, are rites of passage, they mark important moments in people's lives. Many people from BAME backgrounds have certain cultural rituals they carry out before their loved ones are committed to be buried.

In most African villages when a family member is deceased people will travel long distances for the rituals and the funeral. Also Islamic burials, and the way they are carried out, are very special to Muslims.

I spoke to one resident from Walsall, Birmingham. Mr Ahktar told me that at the moment “it is very difficult to carry out certain religious rituals at Muslim or Islamic burials,” and therefore it is unlikely that you can get any closure or find comfort.

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Inability to travel due to coronavirus

Due to the spread of coronavirus travel is restricted. Some countries have placed particularly strict restrictions on visitors who arrive with symptoms that could be coronavirus, in case the disease spreads during large gatherings like funerals. As well as the government restrictions, people’s fear of catching or transmitting the virus means they are reluctant to travel for funerals abroad.

An immigrant from Zimbabwe, Mr Kabote, said: “for many people of African origin there is nothing heartbreaking as the inability to attend the funeral of a sibling or a close family member.” He said “since the skies have closed due to Covid-19, many Africans have to bear the traumatic burden of organizing the funerals of close ones remotely.”

Mr Kabote mentioned that it is indeed very difficult to find some closure when one fails to travel to Africa for a funeral. He goes on to say, “I lost my sister recently and was advised not to travel as a result of the 14 day quarantine measures placed on Zimbabwe, as in other countries, for all people who fly into the country because of the Covid-19 pandemic. I’m failing to cope with the pain that I am still feeling, since I wanted to be among my family members at my sister’s funeral.”

The effect on individuals to cope

An essential part of the grieving process for BAME people is how they bid farewell to loved ones. Part of this is the closeness they have with families to hug and comfort each other. The cooking and grave digging, especially in the rural areas, is a community affair, which can be a part of the healing and grieving process. But with the coronavirus it is very difficult to do any of this.

Professional mental support could help these people cope. But many BAME and migrants find it difficult to seek counselling or don’t know where or who to turn to for help. Some of the reasons why these people are reluctant to seek support are fear, stigma, racism and lack of culturally sensitive treatment which can act as barriers to accessing mental health care. There are also fewer BAME counsellors in the profession so people are unable to get the help they need at the crucial time.

When members of my community have death in the family there are charities available that offer counseling for anyone who is bereaved during the lockdown, they can consult charities like the Sue Ryder charity. The Sue Ryder charity offers free bereavement counselling to anyone over the age of 18. They also have online services. So far I have interviewed people in the BAME community and no-one so far has accessed any bereavement charities for counseling.

To date Covid-19 is still playing an integral part in the lives of bereaved families all over the world. As long as the pandemic remains, the traditions associated with funerals would be gone for the foreseeable future.

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About the author

My name is Althia Loraine Barnett, and I Live in Sutton Coldfield, Birmingham with my husband Anthony. I was born in Jamaica, I am a wife, mother and grandmother, I love to cook, bake and also try my hand at craftwork. I came to live in the UK 19 years ago. I worked as a dinner lady cleaner, care worker, and school bus guide with  Birmingham City Council. I was schooled in Jamaica, I didn’t finish high school so I developed my education by reading and practicing writing  from other educational sources.

I came into journalism by attending a Media Lab meeting with a friend and it started from there. My writing style is around migrant-related stories, current affairs and opinion pieces. My new found love in journalism is to see myself writing articles for well established news corporations.

My ambition is to write articles that will attract the most advanced organisations who might be looking for new and exciting writers with different writing styles. My belief is we should always look out for each other, as this world was created in the image of  the rainbow, we come in different colours, shapes and sizes if we mix them together what a wonderful world this would be to live in.

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