Tajik Chernobyl Victims Still Waiting

A draft law addressing the problems of Tajik victims of the Chernobyl disaster has been delayed because of lack of funds.

Tajik Chernobyl Victims Still Waiting

A draft law addressing the problems of Tajik victims of the Chernobyl disaster has been delayed because of lack of funds.

Almost 20 years after the Chernobyl catastrophe, Tajik victims are still waiting for the government to pass a law that will enshrine rights they have long been promised.

The Tajik government is currently examining a draft law on the care and protection of victims of the Chernobyl catastrophe, but seems in little hurry to pass it, as there are no funds in state coffers to implement its provisions.

The law was drafted by staff from the ministry of labour and social protection, in liaison with members of the NGO Soyuz-Chernobyl, which lobbies on behalf of victims.

Over 3,500 Tajiks were among teams of engineers and other specialists from all over the Soviet Union sent to assist in the clean up operation at Chernobyl in 1985.

Around 2,100 of them are currently registered with Soyuz-Chernobyl, which has around 60 branches across the country. Of those registered, 700 are invalids and 100 are widows.

Director Faridun Khakimov says that 10 to 12 Chernobyl victims die every year in Tajikistan. "The main diagnosis is radiation sickness, of varying degrees of seriousness," he said. Impotence is widespread among many of the male victims. Such problems combined with poor living conditions have led to many suicides.

Chernobyl victims suffer the extra misfortune of passing their sickness on to their children. Currently, the society cares for 500 children of victims, suffering a number of conditions. Many do not live beyond the age of two or three as they are born with deficient immune systems.

Soyuz-Chernobyl estimates that around 95 per cent of victims do not have a permanent job and must either travel to Russia for temporary work or eke out an impoverished existence in Tajikistan.

Current legislation dictates that all benefits and compensation owing to victims since independence should be paid by employers. This means the victims are virtually unemployable as the sums involved are huge.

Although a government decree passed in 1992 is still in force, guaranteeing various privileges and payments, the most important obligations are not enforced, say the victims. These include free trips for treatment at health resorts or equivalent pay outs, free medical checks and care and interest free loans to buy plots of land for building houses or farms.

Soyuz-Chernobyl has had some success in recent years. Pressure on local authorities secured some of the privileges promised in 1992, including annual invalidity benefits and free use of public transport.

However, without a law it will be very difficult to ensure the protection of victims. "We need this law like we need oxygen," Khakimov told IWPR. Members of the society used their own savings to make copies of the bill and distribute it among the relevant departments and industries. Khakimov hopes the draft legislation will become law in April or May of this year.

Deputy minister of labour Adolat Uzakova agrees that a law is needed, but does not believe it will be passed soon. "The finance ministry is delaying the process, saying that there are no funds in the state budget to implement it," she said. "As a result, the bill has not come before the parliament."

"We are not asking for handouts, we just want the state to fulfil the obligations it undertook and at least help us to create the conditions for our own survival," said Khakimov.

Soyuz Chernobyl currently has ten commercial projects in development. Implementation would cost 500,000 dollars and provide 430 jobs. "We did not go to Chernobyl of our own free will, we were following orders. Now we are demanding that the government should help us out," he added.

Zafar Abdullaev is an independent journalist in Dushanbe

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