Six former soldiers seeking asylum in Australia, who failed to return to Afghanistan after the , have been offered life-changing prosthetic surgery for limbs lost during the long-running war against the Taliban.
The group, which includes five former Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers and one trainer, are in Australia on bridging visas and awaiting the outcome of their refugee claims.
They all lost a limb – in some cases two – while serving with the ANA alongside the US-led coalition forces, which included Australia.
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Saif Rahmani was on a mission with US special forces in 2013 when they were ambushed by the Taliban, he told Guardian Australia.
His left leg was severely injured by an improvised explosive device and he was shot in his right leg by a Taliban fighter. He fought back and escaped, and was evacuated to hospital, where hisleft leghad to be amputated above the knee.
“Every day is a bad day because my leg is very painful, this leg is no good,” Rahmani said.
Dr Munjed Al Muderis, , widely recognised for his pro bono work in Iraq fitting prosthetic limbs for amputees, has offered his services to the six athletes.
“They seem to be very motivated and they want to get up and walk and work and contribute. That was one of my main motives to help them, to get them on their feet back again so they can live their lives,” he said from Baghdad.
“They have lost their limbs defending their country and the free world, fighting terrorism and Isis. This is the least we can do, to give back to these people who fought for us to keep us free from the tyrants and terrorists.”
These are guys who fought with Nato, Australia’s ally, to stop the spread of the Taliban
Al Muderis said an anaesthetist had offered to waive the fee, and the Macquarie University hospital was providing big discounts.
But the group is now the estimated $250,000 needed for other costs, including the materials for the prostheses, and other hospital costs.
“For bilateral above-knee amputees, 95% end up in a wheelchair for the rest of their life because traditional socket-mounted prostheses are not that good,” Al Muderis said.
“People cannot walk with a socket prosthesis well with single amputation, so that becomes much more complex when it’s both legs, almost impossible.”
but some of them received calls from family members while here, warning them not to return to Afghanistan.
“He said my life was in danger, live in Australia,” Rahmani said.
The men believe they were targeted further because of their involvement with the Invictus Games.
Alison Battisson, a human rights lawyer who is assisting the group, said the athletes were warned not to “disgrace” by staying behind, but they decided to seek refuge anyway.
They left the official team “in dribs and drabs” – two ran while on the way to the airport – and made contact with members of the Afghan community before formally seeking asylum.
“They just think Australia is fantastic – they can’t believe the disabled access, they say: people assist us and don’t look down on us,” Battisson said.
She said the Australian government had been “very helpful” to the group during the process of seeking asylum.
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“These are guys who fought with Nato, Australia’s ally, to stop the spread of the Taliban. I think it would be great if they were granted asylum,” she said.
“They would want to bring their families here because all of the families are in danger. Some more than others, because of the media around the Invictus Games, they are very vulnerable to Taliban attacks.
“They are all incredibly concerned about their families, and speak to them all the time. And that’s the question they always ask – when can we bring our wives and family here,” she said.