SBCF VA Research

More Help Needed For The Victims of Conflict – New Research Highlights the Plight of Landmine & Unexploded Ordnance Survivors in Afghanistan, Ukraine and Cambodia

Ground-breaking new research by one of the UK’s leading mine action NGOs has exposed the limitations of the international community’s current approach to supporting, protecting and caring for the survivors of the conflict in some of the world’s most war-torn regions. The research found that the current approach risks leaving thousands of victims of conflict and people with disabilities struggling without critical support and facing uncertain futures. The aim of the report is to encourage the sector to use the lessons of the past to find solutions for the future.

As the research was carried out prior to the regime change in Afghanistan, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, it provides an insight into the challenges faced by people with disabilities in each country, prior to the tumultuous events of the last 12 months. The lessons learnt from the research will help to inform the future response to the crises in Ukraine and Afghanistan and ensure that those affected by conflict are supported in the best way possible.

The research – a detailed analysis of victim assistance in mine action, focusing on the contexts of Afghanistan, Cambodia and Ukraine in 2021 – highlights systemic weaknesses in the system of support for those injured and disabled by mines and explosive remnants of war. The systematic gaps in the provision of services that were evident in the research range from:

· first response and emergency transport to evacuate those injured to the hospital;

· a lack of physical and psychological rehabilitation services to aid recovery;

· a failure to provide adequate financial assistance and critical recourses to those in poverty;

· a severe lack of inclusive education, social, and employment opportunities for survivors and people with disabilities; and

· a lack of information on the rights of people with disabilities being disseminated among communities affected by landmines, leading to stigma and discrimination towards survivors and persons with disabilities.

The overarching goal of the research is to ensure that those who have been impacted by victim-activated explosive ordnance (VAEO) are not left behind.

As part of the research hundreds of VAEO survivors, indirect victims, people with disabilities and service providers in Afghanistan, Cambodia and Ukraine were interviewed and their experiences proved very revealing. These included:

· Injured children dropping out of school in the Afghan capital Kabul due to the stress and anxiety of being newly disabled;

· A female survivor in Afghanistan trying to secure a degree at university while undergoing her physical rehabilitation treatment, working to earn money and caring for her disabled father while not receiving any financial support;

· Three brothers (with 25 children between them) in Afghanistan, who were all injured by a roadside improvised explosive device while farming the land to feed their families;

· A survivor in Cambodia, was taken to emergency care in a cow cart after he was injured;

· A female survivor in Cambodia with shrapnel in her head, who had to travel over 500km from her home to do tests once a month for eight years, costing her approximately 170USD per trip (including transportation, food, and accommodation);

· A survivor in Ukraine who had to drag himself for two hours to find help after injuring both his legs in a landmine incident and then taking days to reach appropriate care (being refused transport by the military in the process);

· Survivors of an incident that occurred in Ukraine while clearing landmines for the government, who were forced to lie on top of each other in a small rescue vehicle; and

· Survivors in Ukraine who turned down offers of psychological support due to the stigma associated with mental health.

Key findings in the report include:

· evidence of a sharp drop in victim assistance and mine action funding internationally, despite treaty obligations to support landmine survivors. This has resulted in the scaling back of NGO victim assistance services in Cambodia and more than a third of provinces in Afghanistan with no rehabilitation services to support survivors;

· despite stated free healthcare, over half of those with a disability interviewed in Cambodia said they would rather pay for private healthcare than rely on Government-run hospitals with many citing a lack of trust in the system as their reason;

· many disabled people living in poverty, in all three countries, face unnecessary barriers to financial support due to the bureaucratic processes involved in registering their disability and related statuses, which would give them access to financial assistance and free healthcare;

· according to estimates the average person with a disability in Cambodia spends approximately three to four times more on healthcare than people without a disability;

· despite Government and NGO awareness-raising programmes in Cambodia, no survivor taking part in the study could name any of the rights they had as a person with a disability;

· even before the current conflict with Russia, fighting in the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts of Ukraine (since 2014) meant that landmines and other explosive devices were heavily affecting the lives of people living in both the Government and non-Government controlled areas; and most VAEO incidents in Ukraine prior to the current conflict occurred in the “grey zone”, in the area along the contact line between the Government and non-Government controlled areas, where support was largely non-existent. These circumstances will only likely worsen and spread since the Russian invasion.

Recommendations resulting from the research include:

Increased involvement and participation of survivors and people with disabilities in the design, delivery and management of policies and programmes in place for their benefit;

Greater prioritisation of victim assistance and rehabilitation projects for survivors and people with disabilities when funding and policy decisions are being made in relation to broader mine action, humanitarian aid and development;

Improved consideration for needs and victim assistance in the collection, management and analysis of data related to mine action, so that levels, trends and changes in need can be tracked and services better targeted;

Enhanced coordination of service provision to establish a holistic approach to victim assistance and maximise the benefits of multi-sectoral and integrated support; and

Better distribution of information and strategies between countries and agencies, especially from those with significant experience in victim assistance to those in the process of developing new programmes.

Lou McGrath OBE, CEO of the Sir Bobby Charlton Foundation, said:

“By undertaking this research, we wanted to learn from the insight and lived realities of survivors, their families, people with disabilities and others living in landmine contaminated areas. The research has successfully shone a light on the experiences of landmine and bomb blast victims.

“It is our hope that by providing a platform for these invaluable insights to be heard, we will help inform the design and implementation of successful victim assistance policy in the future.

“We acknowledge the obvious changes that have taken place both in Afghanistan and now Ukraine since the field research for this report was undertaken. These changes, however, do not take away from the value of the recommendations. Rather, the changes only exemplify their importance. The lessons of the past that are presented here will help to inform victim assistance stakeholders in both countries when designing policy to support those affected, in the future”.

The research author, George Fairhurst, who conducted all the field visits and interviews said:

“Victim assistance in mine action plays an important role by providing an inflow of specialist staff, expertise, and resources to address the increased strain on a country dealing with the presence of mines. The existence of victim assistance structures in a country also drives the design and implementation of rights-based laws, policies, and programmes.

“Despite the crucial role of victim assistance, the service providers I met were struggling to secure the funding they needed to maintain their services and address needs. This suggests that current funding strategies are not suitable or sustainable”.


Read the full report