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Terror attack survivor accuses Belgian government of abandoning victims

Airport workers stand in front of the remembrance wall after a tribute ceremony for the victims of the 2016 terrorist attacks at the departure hall of Brussels airport in Zaventem. On March 22 2016, 32 people were killed and 324 got injured in suicide bombings at Brussels airport and the Brussels' subway. (BELGA PHOTO BENOIT DOPPAGNE)
09:44 15/01/2021

On Tuesday, Manuel Martinez, a victim of the terrorist attack on Brussels International Airport in Zaventem on 22 March 2016, underwent surgery for the 34th time. The former airport worker maintains that he and the other survivors of the attacks in Zaventem and the Maelbeek metro station have been abandoned by the government.

"The Belgian state has totally abandoned us,” Martinez told reporters from his hospital bed. “Only the victim association Life4Brussels is there for us."

Martinez, 43, was working at the airport on the day when the attack took place there. Since that fateful day, he has been living from surgery to surgery for nearly five years, often attending multiple medical appointments every day.

He is in terrible pain, says the victims' advocacy group Life4Brussels, which has been campaigning on the behalf of the survivors for financial help and the creation of a central aid fund. The fact that victims still struggle to pay for care and receive little governmental support five years after the attacks has prompted the organisation to reveal Martinez’s story.

Martinez’s latest operation, the 34th, was carried on his knee, which was badly hit by the bomb blast. "There are still a lot of problems with that leg, but for now they have managed to save my knee and it has yet to be amputated," he said.

As if things were not bad enough, the insurance companies are making his life worse, he claims. One example is that his insurer has been refusing to pay for necessary adjustments to his bathroom for five years.

"Last September I fell in the shower, injuring my face, because my bathroom is not adapted to my disability,” he said. “My colleague from the airport who also survived had his leg amputated. After three years, the insurance company finally took on the costs of his bathroom. But I've been fighting for adjustments for almost five years now."

According to Life4Brussels, insurance company Ethias has refused to take on the costs of adjusting the bathroom because, according to an expert doctor working with the insurer, Martinez should "have some mobility back at some point, so there is no need to adjust the bathroom."

Martinez and the other survivors of the attacks do not understand why the government does not intervene to make their lives easier. "The Belgian State has completely forgotten about us, the State does nothing, only Life4Brussels helps us,” he said.

Ever since the 2016 attacks, Martinez has had almost daily medical consultations, sometimes several appointments a day, at different locations, with breaks at home, especially now during the coronavirus crisis.

"I'm not going to spend three hours on a chair in a hospital, especially now with the coronavirus crisis and while all the cafeterias are closed,” he said. “But the trips are once again leading to discussions with my insurer, as is the home help I should be getting. Why has the Belgian state left us in the hands of the insurance companies?"

In the meantime, Martinez has attempted suicide three times. He is exhausted, and often thinks that it would have been better for him and his family if he had not survived the attacks.

The former airport employee was admitted to a psychiatric centre in December, and there is a good chance that he will return there after his latest hospitalisation. According to Life4Brussels, this has as much to with the aftermath of the attacks as the horror in which the victims were caught up in on that day.

"Terrorism can also take the form of a state that abandons victims,” said Martinez. “Instead of helping to heal and recover, by mistreating us, the Belgian state has ensured the effects of the attacks of almost five years ago continue."

Written by Nick Amies