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AFGHANISTAN:
A quarter of a million landmine victims struggle to make a life

Despite having one of the world's highest number of landmine victims, Afghanistan has been slow to reintegrate its hundreds of thousands of disabled war victims. The figures are staggering. The country has more than a million people living with disabilities, according to the Afghan Ministry of Martyrs and Disabled (MOMD) and a quarter of them - at least 250,000 - are victims of landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXOs).
The number is rising, with at least 40 people still falling victim to mines each month, as people return to villages that used to be on front lines. But this figure has now fallen considerably compared to the last few years when 300-400 people were victims of UXOs and mines every month.
In the capital Kabul, the crowded office of Nafisa Sultani, a landmine victim and head of Afghanistan's Disabled Women's Association, has many tragic stories. "These are all landmine victims who have no place at home and in society, so they come to our association to help them reintegrate," she told IRIN, as she looked over application forms from women disabled by landmines, seeking assistance.
"Surgical and prosthesis support is the first and the last [official] assistance a landmine victim gets in this country. There is nothing going on to help the reintegration of these most vulnerable people into normal life."
While there are several national and international organisations and a government ministry with mandates to assist the disabled, Sultani believes there is little happening to help them reintegrate. "Despite hundreds of millions of dollars of international aid for Afghanistan, the disabled community has not been addressed."
As Afghanistan already has a high rate of unemployment, finding jobs for mine victims is very difficult. Even though the government has passed a decree that every ministry's staff must comprise five percent disabled people, "that has not been implemented", Sultani said.

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Ahmad Fawad lost both his legs above the knee in a mine explosion. He was refused a security guard's job with an aid agency even after he passed the interview, when the employer was told about Fawad's disability. "I obtained a month's training course on the security guard profession, but I still can't find a job because some people think that when you lose part of your body your mind is also deficient," he told IRIN bitterly.

The government is paying 300 afghanis (about US $7) disability pension monthly. Some distribution of land for shelter or monthly food items through aid agencies for disabled families also takes place.
But Zarina, an UXO victim, said often disabled ex-combatants are prioritised over civilians. "Just recently there was land distribution for the disabled, but we were told 'this is for ex-officers and soldiers, not civilian victims'," the 20-year- old victim who lost her left leg due to a mortar bomb explosion, told IRIN.
She added that literacy training was essential for every disabled person to make them more employable. "Meanwhile handicraft training and other vocational training will also be very helpful to help them become self-sufficient."
The International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC) is running the largest orthopaedic centres in major Afghan cities providing limb prostheses and physiotherapy. According to Alberto Cairo, head of ICRC orthopaedic projects in Afghanistan, the committee is running vocational training, a back-to-school programme, micro-credit schemes and a job centre to promote reintegration.
"Disabled people need a lot more than a plastic leg, or to learn to walk. They have to get back into society, find a role, and find dignity," Cairo told IRIN.
Cairo said, in Afghanistan, where life was hard for everyone, the disabled needed more help. "What kind of help? Schooling and work to give them a job. Or a loan to start up a small business - difficult, but possible." Meanwhile, under what he called "positive discrimination", most of his employees were disabled and hundreds of others found jobs through the ICRC disabled job centre.
But despite what the ICRC and others are doing, Mohammad Razi, a programme officer for the leading UN agency supporting disability programmes, said there was very little happening to help the disabled and mine victims reintegrate. "Funding problems, no interest from the donors, no attention by the Afghan government, security problems in the country and lack of technical personnel in the field of disability are the main reasons," Razi told IRIN.
Afghan society still has a long way to go in accepting mine victims, Haji Ahmad Shah Azimy, a member of the Afghanistan Disabled Association who lost both hands in a mine accident while working as a shepherd north of Kabul, said. "Neither in the public services nor in the private sector can you find a facility for the disabled," the father-of-six added.
Azimy said there were no special services for people with wheelchairs, for example. "A disabled guy cannot use public transport, nor is there a facility for us to cross the road." Disabled access to public buildings, including the relevant ministry, was non-existent and things were even worse outside the capital, he said.
The prevalent attitude among Afghans is that those maimed by mines are unworthy ex-fighters responsible for all the destruction in Kabul, rather than innocent victims who need public support and understanding. Victim support is part of the Ottawa convention, which the Afghan government signed up to in 2002.
"I wouldn't agree that we are not assisting them. The government is well aware of the scale of the problem and is trying to assist victims as much as possible," Mohammad Haidar Reza, Afghan deputy foreign minister and chairperson of demining activities in Afghanistan, told IRIN.
"But because of the limited resources that the government has, it cannot take care of all of their [the disabled] needs," he maintained.