• About CIVIC

    CIVIC is a Washington-based non-profit organization that believes the civilians injured and the families of those killed should be recognized and helped by the warring parties involved.

    On this blog, you will find stories from our travels around the world as we meet with civilians and military, aid organizations and government in our quest to get war victims the help they need.

  • Countries

  • Contributors

    Sarah, Executive Director

    Marla B, Managing Director

    Kristele, Field Director

    Liz, Chief Communications Officer

    Trevor, CIVIC's fellow based in Afghanistan

    Chris, CIVIC's fellow based in Pakistan

    Jon, CIVIC's US military consultant

  • Media Content

PAKISTAN: Victims Continue to Struggle in Jalozai

“How much could a wheelchair cost?”  Rubina exclaimed.  “Seven hundred rupees?”  She took 500 rupees, about $7, from her wallet and turned back to Mahia’s tent to give it to her family.

Jalozai Refugee Camp

In 2008, while in her home in Bajaur Agency, shrapnel from tank or artillery shelling struck Mahia in the head, paralyzing her and leaving her unable to speak.  She now lives with her mother, two of more than 100,000 other displaced persons in the Jalozai refugee camp outside Peshawar, in northwest Pakistan.

I was lucky to have Rubina help me conduct interviews in the camp. A housewife from the nearby city of Nowshera, she spoke both Pashtu and English—and as a woman, she could conduct interviews that I could not.

Rubina was shocked by Mahia’s situation.  Without a wheelchair, Mahia’s family has to carry her to the public latrines down the road from their tent.  Outraged that the lack of a simple, inexpensive item could make such a difference in their lives, Rubina felt compelled to offer the family money in the hope that they could purchase a wheelchair.

There are no official figures for civilian casualties in Pakistan.  But in only one day, in one small section of a refugee camp, we came across 24 cases of civilians who had been injured or had lost family members as a result of the fierce fighting between the military and militants.  For many, their injuries or losses have made their lives in the camp even more difficult.

Sabir, a 14 year-old boy, worries about supporting his family without his father.  Last March, fighter jets shot his father when he defied a curfew to search for a way for his family to escape the violence. Sabir’s father made it back to their home, but lost his leg and died within several days from his wounds.  With his father gone and four siblings to look after, Sabir has a lot on his mind for a 14 year-old.  He says he is the only person who can support the family now.

A family tent at Jalozai

Iqbal, 30 years-old with four children, was taking cover from the fighting when his house was struck by a tank shell.  The walls collapsed around him, and he awoke to see one of his legs severed just below his knee.  He now wears a prosthetic thanks to the Red Cross, but finding work with his disability is very difficult, as is traversing the long dirt pathways of the camp.

Indications are that civilian casualties in Pakistan are significant.  In 2009, over 2,400 civilians were killed in terrorist attacks alone.  Counting losses from Pakistani military operations and U.S. drone strikes, civilian casualties in Pakistan likely far exceed those in Afghanistan.  Yet there is no systematic accounting of civilian casualties or assistance for those that are harmed.  Innocent victims like Mahia, Sabir, and Iqbal deserve and expect more.

Iraqi Refugees in Jordan, Najla’s story

Posted By: Marla B.

There are an estimated 750,000 Iraqi refugees now residing in Jordan and another 1 to 1.5 million in Syria. In June, I traveled to Jordan to conduct interviews with families and to talk with them about their experiences. That task proved to be one of the most challenging of my time here at CIVIC.

On June 1, 2008, I visited a woman who I’ll call Najla*. Her son Samir* was the apple of her eye. She beamed as she told us how much he loved toys and school and what a lovely young boy he was.

Samir as baby

Samir as baby

In 2003 when the war began, they knew the bombing was coming and she and her son prepared. On the first day the bombing was very strong and most of the Iraqis from Baghdad left their homes to seek safety. She and her son stayed behind. She recalled that the sky was red from the bombing and resulting fires. No one in their neighborhood was killed in the first part of the war, but soon the violence would start and many would be lost. She told me that the war had been very difficult for them. Too, life under Saddam’s regime was hard but at least there was security. Now, she says, there are militias and they have taken their sons. “It is just easy to kill in Iraq.”

One night the milita came to their house. As her family (her, her son, her brother and his son) lay asleep on the ground, ten armed men broke a window and entered. They beat her and her brother threatening them not to make a sound or they would be killed. They beat Samir and threatened to kill Najla’s brother’s son. Samir told them he would do whatever they wanted as long as they didn’t harm his family. They demanded money and Samir gave all they had. As the gunmen were leaving… one of them said “kill them… we can’t leave them alive”. Another said “no, we’ve gotten what we want, just cut his ear”.

At first they lived in fear that the masked men would return. But after time passed they began to believe they had indeed escaped this threat. They had not. On the 6th of March 2006, as her son headed home from work, he turned onto the very street where he lived. Militia men came and murdered him in cold blood. Her neighbors told her that they were from the Medhi army, the same group suspected of the earlier break in on their house, she is sure of it. Najlaa wept now as she told me how much she missed her son and how he had been so brutally taken from her.

Samir as an adult

Samir as an adult


In the coming months we will be posting short videos with snippets of some of my conversations.

*In all cases the names will be changed and the faces obscured at the request of the subject.

GUEST BLOGGER: Civilians Flee to Kandahar City After ISAF Aerial Bombing

Posted By: Rebecca W., Erica in Afghanistan

It was 2am when the aerial bombardment started. Ahmed described to me, in an interview in the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) office in Kandahar, how he and has family huddled together behind a wall. “We said that if we were going to die, we would die together.” The bombing by ISAF troops continued for two hours. Nine of Ahmed’s neighbors died and eleven civilians were injured, including three of Ahmed’s family members: his mother and his two brothers.

Ahmed

Ahmed

When the bombing finally ended, Ahmed grabbed his family members, found a bus and sent them to Kandahar city. He and his neighbors then tried to get the badly injured and dying to a hospital. In one of the houses, five family members were dead. The head of this household pulled his son from the rubble. His son was crying, saying “I’m cold, I’m so cold.” Ahmed found a blanket and put it over the boy, but he died not long afterwards.

The coalition troops had been told that the Taliban were hiding in Ahmed’s village. This is why the bombing had targeted near these civilian homes. But Ahmed told me that when the land troops came after the air strike, they found no Taliban and only civilians. The foreign troops therefore promised to compensate Ahmed and his neighbors. But they said that they would pay only for the dead and not for the livestock and land that had been lost. Continue reading

GUEST BLOGGER: The Three Carpenters from Kandahar – Pt. 2

Posted By: Rebecca W., working with CIVIC’s Erica in Afghanistan

Read Part 1…

The carpenters paid for their hospital treatment by selling their cars and furniture and by relying heavily on the assistance of family members and friends. They now have debts that make it very difficult to survive. The men finally received some assistance when ACAP approached them in January 2007. ACAP agreed to provide them with funding for their carpentry business, tailoring training for their family members, stationary for their children and additional medical treatment.

I met these men on the day that they were collecting the ACAP assistance. I asked them what the aid meant to them. Mohammad summed up the sentiments felt by all the men: “We are hoping to make an income with the assistance we get. Nowadays, if you get a piece of bread from someone, you are happy. So this aid is very important. It will help to expand my supplies and to expand business. It will bring positive effects to my family. With this business, we can pay off the loans that we owe to people.”

GUEST BLOGGER: Grieving a Son in Kandahar – Part 2

Posted By: Rebecca W., working with CIVIC’s Erica in Afghanistan

Read Part 1…

Zalmai was a taxi driver and the main earner for his family. His income supported ten family members, including an older brother who was shot by the Russians and is paralyzed down the right side of his body. Now the family, which includes four children under the age of three, is finding it extremely difficult to survive. They receive wheat and vegetables from relatives and depend on their neighbors’ generosity.

Things began to look a little more optimistic for Ahmed when one of his relatives told him about the USAID-funded ACAP program. “Finally,” he told me, “I began to feel that there might be hope.” ACAP has agreed to buy the family a cow. “With the cow, we can manufacture milk, yogurt and we will sell this in the bazaar and get income.” As he told me this, a smile finally appeared on his face. Ahmed is still clearly grieving for his son, but now at least he can continue building a future for his family.

GUEST BLOGGER: Grieving a Son in Kandahar – Part 1

Posted By: Rebecca W., working with CIVIC’s Erica in Afghanistan

Ahmed Sultani is a small 70-year old man with a soft-spoken voice and lines etched deeply into his tanned face. On July 22, 2006, his 18-year old son, Zalmai, was killed by a suicide bomber who had been targeting Canadian troops in the centre of Kandahar city. In this attack, twelve civilians were killed and twenty-eight were injured. Ahmed told me how his neighbors came to his house in a village outside Kandahar to tell him that his son was dead. The women of the house started screaming and wailing in grief. Ahmed rushed down to the city and found his son “on the ground and he was torn up and burned and we took him. Half his body was missing.”

I asked him what he missed most about his son and his eyes filled with tears. “Every time I think about him, my heart goes to pieces. I cry hard. I miss everything about him. He was a good son. He was married and he had one son and then another baby was on the way when he was killed. Now he has another son but he never saw this son.

GUEST BLOGGER: Kandahar Field-Visit, Suicide Bomber Attack and the Daily Threat for Civilians

Posted By: Rebecca W., working with CIVIC’s Erica in Afghanistan

[Written 7/19/08] Driving from Kandahar Air Field into the city, the difficult security situation in Kandahar and the severe challenges facing civilians become immediately apparent. Squashed in the back of an armored vehicle and wearing a bullet-proof vest, I saw the wreckage caused by a suicide bomber who’d exploded himself only an hour earlier. It was a tense environment – and the civilian population has to deal with it day after day. There is at least one suicide bomb attack every week here.  In February, a suicide bomber killed 80 people at an event just outside the city. I asked my Afghan driver who was born and raised in Kandahar how he and his family coped in this environment. He sighed, shook his head and told me how the women always make an extra effort to kiss their fathers, husbands, sons and brothers goodbye. “The women never know if their men will return,” he said. “Just stepping outside is a risk. But we have to go out. We cannot be trapped inside like animals.” Gesturing towards the site of the suicide bombing, he added: “Why did he blow himself up here? There are no soldiers here. Just poor people trying to make enough money to feed their families. Tonight in my city there are even more mothers and wives left to grieve.”