Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Disabled people in Iraqi Kurdistan say government is not listening

From The Kurdish Globe:

Iraqi Kurdistan has highest number of disabled in Iraq.

Kurdistan Region's society and institutions still remain far from handicapped-friendly.

Hikmat Marouf, 34, recently applied for a job to become news editor at one of the media outlets in Kurdistan Region. After his resume was reviewed, they agreed to grant him the job. But when Marouf visited the office of the media outlet and learned that the building had no elevator, he realized he could not take the job. In 2000, Marouf lost both legs while trying to remove landmines from Kurdistan mountains. The office to his new job was on the third floor.

"In Kurdistan, everything have been designed and built, including the pavement, without taking into consideration the disabled, as if there are no handicapped people in this country," said Marouf, who said he cannot go to theatre, cinema and government establishments because of the lack of handicapped-accessible entrances and facilities. According to him, "The cities in Kurdistan are like big villages rather than cities; in developed countries, people with disabilities are considered in the master plan of the cities."

In Iraq, Kurdistan Region has the highest disability rates caused by landmines and unexploded ordnances that were planted by the Iraqi military of Saddam Hussein on the border with Iran, to stop Iranian troops crossing the border during the Iraq-Iran War.

Living in the Region is difficult for someone who is healthy and strong let alone one who has a disability. And Kurdistan Parliament does not have any law to define and specify the rights of people with disability. There are about 100,000 disabled people in Kurdistan Region, where the population is approximately five million, and there is not a single representative in Parliament.

Marie Courtheix, Project Manager for Handicap International--a French NGO based in New York and active in Iraq, particularly in Kurdistan Region--stated: "Here, people with disabilities do not know their rights about education and government support. Mainly, it is the disabled who should ask for their rights and be involved in any decisions about them," Courtheix added. She mentioned that in Kurdistan "there are services" for the disabled, but the services are for the people who live in cities, not in remote areas. Her NGO wants to focus on remote areas, mostly where landmines are rampant.

There are about 20 local NGOs in Kurdistan Region that deal with the disabled, but Marouf believes they are not active. "They are politicized; they are a tool in the hands of political parties." He called for political parties to let NGOs to play their roles as civil organizations.

Meanwhile, the Kurdistan government says the situation of Kurdistan's disabled is far better than those living in other parts of Iraq. "Every day, people with disabilities from Mosul, Baghdad and other Iraqi cities come to us and demand the same support we are giving our disabled," said Salam Jamal Gharib, head of the Erbil Directorate of Caring for the Disabled.

Gharib said the Kurdistan government opened several institutes in the three governorates of Kurdistan Region: one for the blind, one for the deaf, and one for people with autism and handicaps. In these institutes, the disabled receive education, training courses and social activities; the government provides their transportation.

Gharib stated that every disabled person receives 150,000 Iraqi dinars monthly if the person is not a government employee and 100,000 dinars if the person is a government employee. However, Gharib prefers the government finds job for them rather than giving them cash.

"It is better to merge the disabled with society rather than to isolate them." He mentioned that the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour has asked the government to demand of each private company that 5% of their employees be disabled as a condition to work in Kurdistan. Meanwhile, the government recently decided that any government employee who has an autistic child can take a permanent vacation to for the child and still get payment.

The handicaps say the money they receive is very little, in particularly for those who live in rent house. "Every month I ask my aunt to give me some money since the 150, 000 dinars I receive is very little for my personal life," said Hersh Muhammad who do not have both of his hands, lost them in a power incident who he was ten years old. Muhammad, 22, said his father is also handicap, both of them they receive 300, 000 dinars from the government. They live in a rent house and every month his parents have to pay 300, 000 dinars to the landlord. He said without other people's help, they won't be able to live.

Moreover, he complained that in Erbil city, where Muhammad lives, there are no places for handicaps, who can spend some time. Despite the fact that, Muhammad does have both of his hands but he is a very good swimmer (a self-trained swimmer) until he has received a number of medals as the best Iraqi handicap swimmer. He said in Erbil city, there is a group of handicap swimmers but until now they don't have a swimming pool. He wished that the government builds a swimming pool for them.

"Some Kurdish people think being disabled is a punishment from God," said Courtheix. "Some have been isolated by their parents; they are hit at home and kept from society."

Gharib said he gets angry when he sees society look at the disabled with pity. "They don't need pity, they need guidance. Society must look at them as human beings and talk with them as human beings."

The disabled have a lot to say about society's behavior toward them. "A book must be written about society"s ill treatment toward the disabled, not only an interview," said Marouf. "Notice all the bad names that society uses toward the disabled, such as "lame" or "dwarf", said Marouf, adding that since Kurdish people are mountainous people, only the physically strong are popular--people who are smart are not popular.

The number of disabled is increasing every day in Iraq and in Kurdistan Region due to a large number of landmines and so many car accidents. In 2010, more than 15,000 car accidents occurred in Kurdistan Region. Due to car bombs in the rest of Iraq, even more Iraqis are now handicapped.