Why I’m talking about arms and legs

The Albanian Government risks failing to meet its international obligations regarding the care of survivors of landmines and UXOs

I’ve been aware of the story of my husband’s cousins for a few years now. It was one of numerous stories he shared with me about his previous life in Albania. Along with stories of horrific car crashes, munitions depots exploding, and cows being struck dead by lightning.

It wasn’t until I moved to Albania and met the cousins in question – two brothers in their 20s – that the full extent of the horrific accident and its life changing consequences really hit me.

Twelve years ago at the family farm, the brothers took their cows up on the hill to graze. In this paddock was unexploded ordnance (UXO). It had landed there after the munitions depot in the valley below exploded (due to poor maintenance by the Albanian army) firing munitions all over the area. The brothers lost limbs. One completely lost his sight. They both nearly lost their lives.

The subsequent years were spent in expensive medical treatment – none of which was funded by the Albanian government, who, in my opinion, are ultimately responsible for the UXO that devastated the brothers’ lives, and the lives of their family. The family had to pay for the urgent care needed immediately after the accident. International charities subsequently funded prosthetic limbs and operations attempting to restore their sight.

And then the brothers and their family were left to get on with life as best they could.

The Albanian government gave them NOTHING in support, or compensation. NOTHING. To this day, they get only the minimum benefits any person with a disability is entitled to in Albania. And trust me, it is minimal.

I met the brothers when I moved to Tirana and I was struck by three things: 1) how intelligent, interesting and lovely they both were; 2) how utterly inadequate their prostheses were; and 3) how much potential was being lost by not giving them both all the opportunities in the world to enable them to live full and complete lives.

If this accident had happened in the UK their story would be completely different. They would both be fully independent men capable of working and caring for themselves.

So I started to ask around to find out if anything could be done to help them.

I eventually tracked down the organisation to speak to. The Albanian Mine Action Executive, was set up to clear remaining landmines and UXO and provide support for the more than 800 survivors in Albania.

We met with a representative, only to be told that for no clear reason, the Albanian government stopped funding this organisation at the end of 2013. It seems there is no money being set aside for the ongoing care and rehabilitation of survivors. And apparently no funding is given to the only prosthesis centre in Albania set up to serve survivors who lost limbs.

We were told that international organisations are now reluctant to fund this work in Albania because the level of corruption is such that they cannot guarantee the money will be used as it should be.

In the meantime, one brother is stuck with a prosthetic leg that no longer fits him, causing him pain when he walks and slowly damaging his spine. The mechanics in the leg have failed so it cannot sense a change in his movements and so won’t bend when he wants to sit down. The other brother has two prosthetic arms that hang limply at his side. He cannot feed himself or do any of the basic tasks we all undertake on a daily basis to care for ourselves.

Prosthetic limbs, I’ve been told, require maintenance every two years – especially important when the survivor is young and still growing. For these young men it’s been 10 years.

We’ve now been told we can get a new leg. This process has started although it is some way from being successfully concluded. But because the technology is not available in Albania to provide prosthetic arms we have been told that it is not possible to get new arms – even though the technology is available in many other countries in Europe. This is not an acceptable reason to leave a young man entirely dependent on others for his basic needs.

By not providing adequate, ongoing care and rehabilitation to survivors of landmines and UXOs the Albanian government risks failing to meet its obligations as a signatory of the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions.

And that is why I am talking about arms and legs.

“Each State Party with respect to cluster munition victims in areas under its jurisdiction or control shall, in accordance with applicable international humanitarian and human rights law, adequately provide age- and gender-sensitive assistance, including medical care, rehabilitation and psychological support, as well as provide for their social and economic inclusion.”

Article 5, Convention on Cluster Munitions

You can find out more here:

You can raise this issue with the Albanian government by tweeting and asking these people to reinstate funding for the organisations supporting survivors of landmines:

… and you can raise awareness by sharing this blog post. Thank you.

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