Survivors of Bangladesh garment factory collapse still suffering, 5 months later

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September 7, 2013

SAVAR, Bangladesh — Rafiqul Islam can’t recall how many people he pulled from the rubble of Rana Plaza, the eight-story factory complex that collapsed in April, killing more than 1,100 people. But he knows how many he cut out with a hacksaw blade — eight. He did so in spaces so cramped that at one point he became trapped himself.

Those 18 days as a volunteer rescue worker left their scars. Islam has suffered memory lapses and had a series of violent outbursts, and wound up losing his job. Now he wanders alone most days, not sure where to go — until the voices bring him back to the place where he saved so many people and lost himself.

“I hear them still, calling for me,” he says, staring into a mound of broken concrete, torn fabric and twisted iron.

Nearly five months after the deadliest incident in garment manufacturing history, the suffering is far from over for the victims, their relatives and the rescue workers. Many families have received only part of their promised financial compensation. And activists and health-care professionals decry a lack of psychological and financial support for scores of survivors and rescue workers stricken with invisible handicaps.

“After the Rana Plaza tragedy, people are so concerned with the physical impact, but they are completely ignoring the psychological,” said Abdus Sabur, an adviser to the Sajida Foundation, a leading Bangladeshi social development organization. “Mental health is not taken seriously at all in this country.”

According to the Solidarity Center, a nonprofit group affiliated with the AFL-CIO, the Bangladeshi government has paid settlements to dependents of 777 of the 1,131 confirmed dead in the disaster, in amounts ranging from $1,250 to $5,000. An additional 36 garment workers who lost limbs or were paralyzed have received between $15,000 and $18,750 each.

Smaller amounts have come from a British chain, Primark, which used a supplier in Rana Plaza, and the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, which represents the $20 billion-a-year industry. A group of Western clothing brands are also discussing providing a lump-sum payment for the suffering experienced by the victims of Rana Plaza.

So far, none of the 4,000 families affected by the Rana Plaza disaster have received the full payments promised by the government or association, says the Bangladesh Institute of Labor Studies, a labor advocacy organization.

Survivors are struggling to cope with not just physical and financial burdens but also with deep emotional wounds.

Visible and invisible signs

Razibul Rahman Kari, 20, a sewing machine operator, was luckier than most when the factory complex collapsed April 24 on the outskirts of Dhaka. Pinned by a heavy slab, he eventually managed to dig himself out with the help of a local man.

But spending hours in the dark amid muffled screams took its toll: The young man has fresh scars on his wrists from cutting himself with a knife while locked in his bedroom. Sometimes when his mother has tried to bring him food, she said, he has beaten her. Without his $70-a-month salary to support them, the family relies on handouts.

Source: Washington Post