Injury and identity in Afghanistan

For those of us who sit and stare at a computer screen for work, physical toil can be a distant concept.

But for the thousands of men and women who earn their living as civilian military contractors in some of the world’s most dangerous regions, it’s an integral part of who they are.

Construction workers, engineers, mechanics and technical experts are all employed on the infrastructure projects which are a crucial part of any active military operation abroad.

For these workers, a long-term physical injury can mean not only a reduction in income but also damage to their very identity.

Mrika Tahiri, a medical case manager for Tangiers International, is well-versed in the psychological impact a workplace accident can mean to claimants and the families who rely on them.

In 2016, a Kosovar national working in Kandahar, Afghanistan, sustained a serious injury to his leg after a heavy object became dislodged at his work site.

“Afrim” – an otherwise healthy 30-something male with a wife and young child back in Kosovo – knew that this type of injury could have repercussions for his continued employment.

Mrika said: “Although he’d tried to be cautious and obey all the safety requirements, something had gone wrong and a very large piece of construction had fallen on him.

“Although nothing was broken, it was extremely swollen and discoloured. At first, he thought it would go away on its own, but as time progressed and it continued to look bad, he became worried he would lose his limb.”

Mrika met with the claimant as he returned for medical assessment and treatment back in Kosovo. She was struck by his enthusiasm for physical work, his dreams and ambitions – both personally and professionally – and how he felt his injury posed a risk to realising them.

Having worked for Tangiers International for more than three years, Mrika understood the distress this type of physical injury could cause.

She said: “He was afraid that when he flew back to Afghanistan, if the employer saw that he was not fully recovered he would get a lower-paying job. He was working as a foreign contractor because he wanted to provide the best life for his family – he felt his injury threatened that.”

Fortunately, Tangiers was on the case. The company prides itself on the mutual trust it develops with the medical professionals where it operates and it was soon able to secure the services of one of Kosovo’s most respected orthopaedic surgeons.

During the consultation, Afrim was assessed for any underlying reasons why his leg might appear so swollen and discoloured. The doctor reassured him that the symptoms were within the normal range for an injury of this type.

Buoyed by the good news, Afrim began a course of physiotherapy, in preparation for his return to work. Just two months later, he was back at work and shortly afterwards he was able to return to full duties.

Mrika said: “As Tangiers International, we have very good working relationships with the hospitals here. They see us being honest and sincere about getting the best treatment for the claimants.

“They understand what it can mean financially if patients are injured and cannot go back to work, especially for their families.”