Kloie Picot

Photographer/ Videographer

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The Disabled Displaced in Afghanistan

Disabled refugees and internally displaced Afghans are truly forgotten individuals. The conflicts between the Afghan Soviet backed government of M. Najibullah and the mainly United States and Pakistan backed Mujaheen, the Taliban Regime and now the deployment of Allied forces in Afghanistan have left behind hundreds of thousands of disabled Afghans. The brutal military campaigns resulted in one of the biggest humanitarian crises of modern history, with over five million Afghan refugees fleeing to Pakistan and Iran and another two million displaced internally.

Former bitter foes the mujahadeen and soldiers of the Soviet backed Afghan government are today living together in displacement camps. “Its not important anymore which side you were on, we are all Afghanis,” says Abdul Moqeem, former mujahadeen and land mine victim currently living in Department 5 Displacement camp, one of the bombed out buildings in the former Soviet Embassy compound in Kabul. “It’s how to earn a living when you are disabled. No one will employ me and I receive 300 Afghani (US$6.00) a month from the Ministry of Martyrs and Disabled (MOMD). How am I suppose to feed my family, put my children in school on 300 Afghani’s a month. There is no public transport near this camp and I can’t afford to take a taxi, and I live in Kabul what about all the others who live in villages. Sometimes when I do make it there, they say come back later. It’s not worth the trip.”

Abdul is one of thousands of disabled war vets, many missing arms, legs, or both and dressed in rags are forced to live on handouts or beg on the war-ravaged streets of Afghanistan. “I used to have a small vegetable shop in Iran. Then some government officials came and told us that it’s safe to come back to Afghanistan. They told us they would give us land and jobs. So we came back, and now we are worse off than in Iran. In October they came and told us they have land for us and we have to leave this displacement camp because they are rebuilding it for government offices. Some of us left and saw the land is very wet and they have to live in tents. Winter is coming, how are we suppose to survive the cold in tents in winter?”

Although no formal studies have been conducted, local surveys estimated that 3-4 percent of the Afghan population is disabled as a direct result of ballistic or landmine injuries. In a population of 20 million this means about 700,000 men, women and children are disabled. Afghanistan has the highest population based rates of landmine injuries and the highest mortality rate .4 in the world. According to The Ministry of Martyrs and Disabled (MOMD) With the return of Afghan refugees to their villages it is estimated that 100 Afghans are killed or injured each month by these devices.

The disabled displaced face challenges in finding safety, in daily life activities, in discrimination on several fronts, including education, access to services and rehabilitation. They are often the last in camps to receive food, water and care and in many situations, viewed as a burden to be left behind. The displaced were given a 1-year free health card by the Afghan government, but for many that year has expired.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) whose local employees are disabled is one of the only institutions that treat the disabled. Since 1988 the ICRC has been providing orthopedic and rehabilitation services for disabled people of Afghanistan, many of whom are also displaced. Patients are also given help to start a new life through their micro-credit loans and job training.

Through sheer determination and creativity, disabled refugees survive. Whether it be by begging or with a small micro-credit loan, there is the will to survive, or it may simply be that there is no other choice.

Abduls wife was able to find a job in a clinic; her salary of 6000 Afghanis (US$200) per month is more than most even dream of in their displacement camp. When asked about his long term plans for the future Abdul replied, “How can I think about the future when tomorrow the government might come and move us to some tent on a wet piece of land.”