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“Let me introduce you to Sarbast: his name means ‘Freedom’”


“Mine injury”. This is the main reason most people become patients at EMERGENCY’s Centre for Rehabilitation and Social Reintegration in Sulaymaniyah. They are war victims, amputees because of the injuries created by mines buried in the ground: explosive devices that the war has left behind, hidden so that they can inflict as much damage as possible. Daily traps that are difficult to identify, but engineered to be lethal. Anyone can step on them and see their life changed forever.

Sarbast (32) also became a victim of these deadly traps a year and a half ago.

“I arrived at this Centre at the beginning of January last year, but my accident happened on 27 August 2017. That morning I was in a trench, South of Kirkuk…”

Sarbast was hiding in that trench, which he had dug alongside other Kurdish fighters, so that he could keep an eye on the ISIS advance towards his city. Before losing part of his left leg, he lived on the frontline as a peshmerga. This word translates from Kurdish as “he who stands before death”, and identified the fighters who are active against Islamic extremists along the frontline of Kurdish territory.

“The previous evening, ISIS had placed a mine near our trench and some of us were there when it exploded. Two people were injured in that attack – myself included – and one person was killed. My leg was badly damaged and I was losing a lot of blood: they transported me to the surgical hospital in Kirkuk, where they stabilised me. Then I was transferred to the Surgical Centre in Sulaymaniyah. The doctors tried to save my leg, performing five operations, but there was nothing they could do – they had to amputate. That’s how I came to find myself here.”

Burhan, physiotherapist at EMERGENCY’s Rehabilitation Centre, has worked here for 22 years and tries to explain the path to recovery for a patient like Sarbast.

To do so, he starts here: “Building a prosthesis and rehabilitating a patient isn’t just a technical matter. Respect is the foundation of our relationship, because patients are first and foremost human beings. We have even found ourselves in front of doctors who had received amputations; there is no differentiation in the medical care we provide. We are often confronted with people in tears, who feel isolated from the rest of the world. It’s up to us to explain that they are not alone, that they can do it. The rehabilitation stage is highly personal: it depends on the gender, weight and age of the patient. But it can depend on dynamics that develop during the process and slow it down, such as contractures, vascularisation problems or diabetes.”

Walking, balancing exercises, massages, exercises to perform at home. Returning to walking normally after having lost a leg is like being born all over again. At the moment he can’t work, but at the end of the rehabilitation phase he’ll be able to apply for a place on one of EMERGENCY’s training courses, which take place every year for disabled patients: he could become a carpenter, an expert in leather making, or a tailor. Soon, Sarbast will be free to restart a life that’s not too different from the one he was expecting to live before his injury.  It’s no coincidence, then, that the first thing Burhan told us when we met was:

“Let me introduce you to Sarbast. His name means ‘freedom’”.

From the Rehabilitation and Social Reintegration Centre in Sulaymaniyah.

EMERGENCY’s Centre for Rehabilitation and Social Reintegration in Sulaymaniyah, in Iraq, is funded by the “European Union Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection”.