Landmine Survivors Still not Getting Help They Need

02 September 2009

A new report finds survivors of landmines and other explosive remnants of war continue to suffer discrimination and general neglect from the governments that promised to assist them.  The so-called "Voices from the Ground" report is issued by Handicap International and the Campaign to Ban Landmines.

Landmine Survivors Still not Getting Help They Need
Austrian Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger (r) and Firoz Ali Alizada, a landmine victim (l), speak to the press in Geneva, Switzerland, 02 Sep 2009
Firoz Alizada is from Afghanistan. He was 12 years old when he stepped on a landmine while taking a shortcut to school. He lost both legs and injured his left hand. This accident, he says, changed his life and took away his hope.

"I did not get any psychological support," said Alizada. "Nobody was there to do some kind of peer support with me. I was really thinking that I am alone, that nobody will take care of me and I will be a burden."

But, Alizada did get his life together. He now is 27, is married and works for the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. But he tells VOA about the extensive discrimination he suffered before reaching this point. He says he did not finish college and could not find a job because of his disability.

Alizada's story is echoed by many of the more than 1,600 survivors from 25 countries who were interviewed for the report. 

The director-general of Handicap International Belgium, Marc Joolen, says they represent the more than 500,000 land mine victims around the world, who continue to suffer from their disability and from the stigma attached to it. He says 70 percent of those interviewed do not think their situation has changed in the past 10 years.

"The mine ban treaty has been successful when it comes to clearance, to do something about stockpiling of explosives, and the usage of mines and other explosives," said Joolen. "However, lack of focus when it comes to the victims of mines, lack of involvement of the victims themselves in making decisions about how their situations could change ... is still badly lagging behind."

The report finds medical care and physical rehabilitation have improved. Just 21 percent of respondents say psychological services have improved. When it comes to jobs, they say they are the last in line.

Stan Brabant of Handicap International notes unemployment of land mine survivors in Afghanistan is more than 70 percent and at around 90 percent in Eritrea.

"We see people that are devastated and they require long-term supports," said Brabant. "Most of the time what we see, and this is reported in this book, is that most of the support is actually provided by the survivor himself or herself and family and the community, but, not by States. States are not doing anything on that. That is a scandal."

Since the Mine Ban Treaty came into force, the number of casualties has gone down. But, advocates for survivor assistance say it remains intolerably high. Every year, 15,000 people are killed or maimed in more than 70 countries.