Emma Naef is the Community Engagement Manager at Royal Trinity Hospice. She tells us about her visit to the Eritrean Saho Community Association, attending a workshop all about the needs and cultural beliefs around death, dying and loss for Eritreans. 

The Ubele Initiative an African diaspora led organisation, which empowers Black and Minoritised communities in the UK, organised an evening with members of the Eritrean community at the Eritrean Saho Community Association centre in Stockwell. The evening was an opportunity to hear about the end of life needs, beliefs and customs of Eritreans.

Eritrea is a country in East Africa which shares borders with Ethiopia, Sudan and Djibouti. The country has a population of around 6 million people, with 49% identifying as Muslim and 49% identifying as Christian. There are 9 tribes in Eritrea, with 9 different languages spoken. According to 2020 figures there are 13,000 Eritreans living in the UK, many of them having arrived since the 1990s.

Importance of community

I arrived knowing very little about Eritrea and was met with a very warm welcome by a number of members of the community who had travelled from all over London to be there. One thing that struck me throughout the evening was how connected and supportive the Eritrean community in the UK are. When someone dies, everyone comes together. Naturally, everyone offers practical help to the bereaved family and donates money to cover all the costs of the funeral.

Since coming to the UK and having to get to grips with the legal procedures surrounding death and funerals, elder members of the Eritrean community set up an organisation named Al-Muwassat. This organisation helps families, they contact the relevant official bodies in the hospital and/or local authority in order to obtain the necessary death and burial certificates, transport and store the body in their own mortuary in Vauxhall, organise the funeral service and burial, and cover the costs of all of this using a membership fee that Eritreans in the UK pay annually. 

The majority of Eritreans believe in care being provided by family and friends rather than relying too heavily on health and social care services. They would try to avoid hospital admissions and do not send their elderly into care homes except in some very rare cases. This extends to hospices too, with Eritreans generally preferring care to be provided at home rather than in the IPU.

Funeral customs 

Funerals are usually large events where anyone is welcome, including children. Funerals are viewed as sombre, respectful, religious events which include prayers, a burial ceremony and a gathering with food afterwards. 

As almost exactly half of the population is Muslim and the other half is Christian there are some slight differences in practices. Muslim Eritreans believe that you should be buried as quickly as possible (ideally within 3 days if in the UK) and that your burial should be done in the same place where you died. However, many Christian Eritreans will pay for the body to be sent back home to Eritrea for burial. Although there are some differences, the group on Friday spoke about how Muslims and Christians are completely integrated in Eritrean society and respectful of one another. 


The group on Friday spoke about the importance of letting everyone grieve differently and, unlike in some cultures, there are no strict rules around how you should grieve. Al-Muwassat offers a bereavement service where someone will visit the family every Friday within 40 days of the death but support is offered on an ongoing basis as this community is so close-knit. 

I learnt so much in the short time I spent at the Eritrean Saho Community Association. It was a really special opportunity for people from many different cultures to get together and learn from one another. At Trinity it is important for us to build on our understanding of the different cultural needs within our catchment area.  The opportunity last Friday to hear about the unique differences, but also the universal similarities, was an honour and very eye-opening. I hope to go back to the centre in the future to learn more, and to try some Eritrean coffee which I’ve heard is in the running for the best coffee in the world!

Interested in partnering up with Trinity?  

Royal Trinity Hospice is invested in learning about the many different cultural groups and communities in our catchment area and gaining a better understanding of the unique needs and beliefs around death, dying and loss. To get in touch about this please contact Emma Naef on [email protected] or call 0777 554 1848.