Demining activities in the vicinity of the refugee camp Bajid Kandala in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Photo: Sean Sutton/MAG
Landmines a constant threat to Iraqi refugees
The on-going and escalating conflicts in Iraq have caused a dramatic increase in the number of refugees and many are forced to flee through areas that are heavily mined. Sida supports organisations working with demining and to educate about the dangers of landmines in Iraq.
For decades one conflict has succeeded another in Iraq. Many of the wars have left landmines and other explosive remnants in the soil. Iraq is thought to be one of the countries in the world with the greatest concentration of mines. In addition to causing death and injury, mines and other remnants of war hamper the development of the country. Explosives stop civilians from using valuable resources such as farm and grazing land, roads and water sources.
Sida has been supporting the organisations Mines Advisory Group (MAG) and the Danish Demining Group (DDG) in Iraq since 2002. They work to reduce the risks connected to residue from landmines and other explosive remnants. They have two main focuses: One is demining to prevent deaths and injuries as well as create opportunities for people to use the land and move freely. The second part is mine risk education and aims to raise awareness about the presence of mines and how to avoid them.
Ayad Awad Mohamed, 29, lives with his wife and their three children in the refugee camp Bahar Taza. Through a course offered by MAG he has learnt how to avoid the dangers of mines and explosive remnants.
"I already had injuries caused by unexploded ordnance. I have now been informed that this refugee camp is situated in an old military area, and that there are still mines here", he says.
The recent fighting between the IS, the Iraqi army and other armed groups has lead to a dramatic increase in the number of internally displaced persons, IDPs, in Iraq. In the northern parts of the country there are also Syrian refugees. New refugee camps are being built on former military sites, and thousands of people are seeking shelter in areas that are still heavily mined after previous conflicts.
"The great number of refugees means an increased risk of accidents, especially since many of them are not familiar with the area", explains Nina Seecharan, country manager for MAG in Iraq.
In northern Iraq MAG is now working intensely with demining and with dissemination of information about risks. Together with UN agencies UNHCR and OCHA the national authorities are planning to open approximately 20 new refugee camps in the area.
"Thanks to MAG, I now know more about how to act. I'm aware that we have to be careful if we get the opportunity to return home, because chances are that there may be unexploded ordnance along the roads in my hometown", says Ayad Awad Mohamed.
DDG is working in Basra in southern Iraq that has not been as affected by the new refugee flows. They continue their efforts to clear land in the district of Shatt Al-Arab to enable resettlement of IDPs from previous conflicts.
Both MAG and DDG complement and strengthen the relevant local authorities' role and activities.