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The Families At Risk From Iraq's Legacy Of Conflict

by Mike Fryer, MAG | @MAGsaveslives | MAG (Mines Advisory Group)
Monday, 13 October 2014 09:46 GMT

Rusi safely removes a 120mm mortar found by MAG close to Bajid Kandala IDP camp. [Photos & reporting: Sean Sutton/MAG]

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* Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Hundreds of thousands of people who've fled to northern Iraq to escape the ongoing violence elsewhere in the country are at risk from landmines and other explosive weapons.

The Kurdish region of northern Iraq is now hosting more than 800,000 displaced Iraqis, including Yazidi, Christian, Shabak, Kakai, Armenian and Turkmen minorities.

Read the full report & view photo gallery here

The region has suffered from numerous conflicts over many decades and as a result is highly contaminated by the explosive remnants of war: unexploded ordnance (UXO) and landmines. MAG has been working in the region since 1992, clearing the areas most needed by communities to develop and live in safety.

 The new influx of hundreds of thousands of people, who are not at all familiar with the area and have no idea about places that are contaminated by UXO and mines, means that large numbers of people are at significant risk.

Last week, a Syrian shepherd who had been in northern Iraq for two weeks triggered a Valmara landmine. He was killed.

In coordination with national authorities, UN agencies and NGOs, MAG has been clearing land to enable the construction of camps for Syrian refugees and displaced Iraqis.

 For 18 months the focus was on Syrian refugees, but now the work is centred around the current IDP crisis as people flee the terror further south.

The majority of people are not in camps but dispersed amongst the community. Some live in schools, under bridges and in unfinished buildings, while the more fortunate ones are able to rent houses.

Niam is living with her family under a flyover in Dohuk. "It's noisy here and the cars are dangerous," she says, "but we are alive."

MAG's Community Liaison teams have been working relentlessly with the IDPs to make them aware of the potential dangers, during their time in the Kurdish region and also for when they return home. 'Risk education' lessons explain to people how they can minimise the risks for themselves and their families.

"We fled from Mosul because our house was in no-man's land between Government forces and ISIS," explains Waheb, now living with his family in Chereran village, Erbil district, where an unexploded rocket had been found the same day by people building a house. "Thank you for these lessons. There are explosive items all around here and these sessions are very valuable."

More IDP camps are planned, but with winter fast approaching many displaced people are very concerned and worried about surviving the freezing temperatures.

Our new mobile technical teams have been trained to respond to the crisis, including the clearance of areas contaminated by recent and current fighting, so that people can go home safely.

The MAG programme in northern Iraq was originally an emergency response to deal with the huge levels of contamination in the region from the Iran/Iraq war and the first Gulf War. The war that started in 2003 also required a dramatic response from MAG teams, and thousands of lives have been saved.

Sadly, the teams are needed again. The clearance and risk education activities have never been more important.

The work in this article was carried out thanks to the support of the Dutch Government's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the US State Department's Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement (WRA).

For more about MAG's work in Iraq and around the world, visit www.maginternational.org.