30 Years in Hell
“We were on our way back to the front, and just started driving again after a tea break in the sand when it happened. The driver hit a rock and lost control over the vehicle. The dirt-road was cleared of landmines, the sides of it weren’t. So when the car left the track where others had driven before us we hit a powerful anti-tank mine. The explosion killed the driver instantly and injured the rest of us. I woke up two weeks later, like this.
Said lifts a deformed, trembling hand. His right arm is the only limb below his neck he can move. The dark room in the center for landmine victims has been Said’s home for the last 12 years. Before that he was cared for at a military hospital. Sometimes his brother and his two nephews come to visit, but most of the time he is left alone.
“I was married at the time, but she divorced me when it was clear that I couldn’t be a husband to her – just a burden”.
He blinks a couple of times before he starts staring at the invisible spot above the ceiling again.
Said’s fate is shared by thousands of other Saharawi. There are reportedly 2,500 casualties as a result of landmines and cluster munitions in Western Sahara, but official statistics are not available and the number is thought to be much higher. Action on Armed Violence (former Landmine Action) states that not only do mines and cluster munitions kill and maim people for life, these dangerous items also prevent people from earning a living, in what is already one of the most challenging physical environments on earth. Some 2500 people have been killed or injured by landmines and cluster munitions since the conflict started in 1975.
“Time is killing me”, Said says.
“I can’t even sleep anymore. I’m just laying on my back waiting for the hours to pass. October 31 I have my 30th anniversary as a landmine victim. Not much to celebrate, is it?”