These are Henna’s words, a 28-year-old Yazidi-Kurdish woman, heading a mine and explosive action team, Team 108, in charge of clearing unexploded devices left behind by Daesh in the area surrounding Sinjar, north of Mosul in Iraq.
On International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in the Mine Action, the European Union honours and supports all the courageous and determined deminers across the world, such as Henna, who work relentlessly to achieve the goal of an anti-personnel mine free world by 2025.
“Our job is not an easy one,” Henna explains. “But we try to put up with everything. We work outdoors, there is wind, rain, sun, and heat. The only thing about this job that keeps us going is the humanitarian side.”
© European Union 2019, Johanna de Tessières
Unexploded devices and booby traps are amongst the most threatening and dangerous leftovers of Daesh in this region. Team 108’s job is of fundamental importance: people’s lives are at risk every day as improvised mines are not easy to identify for non-experts. “Our people are still living in fear, even after they [Daesh] have left,” she explains.
The European Union is strongly committed to supporting actions addressing the threats of anti-personnel mines and explosive remnants of war, including improvised explosive devices. For years after a conflict has ended, mines continue to cause dreadful harm, instil fear and stop refugees and internally displaced people from returning to their homes. Mines also continue to strip entire regions of a fair chance of economic recovery and development, and survivors are often condemned to a life of poverty because of their injuries and the lack of rehabilitation services.
The EU is the world’s second biggest donor when it comes to mine action, after the United States. In the past five years, the EU has been providing mine action assistance such as mine clearance, mine risk education, stockpile destruction, assistance to victims in over 15 countries across the world: Afghanistan, Angola, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Chad, Colombia, Croatia, Guinea, Iraq, Laos, Lebanon, Libya, Myanmar, Nigeria, Philippines, Syria and Ukraine. Between 2014 and 2019, the EU and its Member States have committed more than €500 million for mine action assistance.
An EU-funded project in Lebanon aims to reduce the impact of mines on the security and livelihood of the population in the country and the region through the promotion of sustainable government structures.
Mines and explosive remnants of war are a painful legacy of Lebanon’s last four decades of conflict, including the civil war and the 2006 war, having contaminated vast swathes of land and caused many casualties.
While the contamination spares no region, the southern part of the country was particularly affected in the 2006 war. More recently, large sections of land along the north-eastern border with Syria witnessed an increase in landmines and explosive remnants of war, as a consequence of the conflict in Syria and the fight against terrorist groups such as Daesh in the region around Arsal. Explosive remnants of war are a grave threat to residents in the affected areas, and contamination remains a substantial barrier to development. The project is ongoing and expected results include: a reinforced national capacity to document and prioritise mine clearance operations as well as the resulting socio-economic impact; empowerment of impacted communities that will be better equipped to deal with the residual risk of mines; and the enabling of the social and economic reintegration of victims into their communities.
Across the globe, children are educated about the risks of mines thanks to EU funding. Here below children in the Philippines are showing the hand gestures they learnt during an Explosive Ordnance Risk Education session.
Esmael Madag, 50, a farmer from Sitio Dam, Barangay Gadung of Barira, Maguindanao in the Philippines reported and identified the location of 2 UXO (Unexploded Ordnance), possibly 155mm shells fired during the “all-out war” of 2000, in his rice fields. Such reporting from the community is essential for developing a database of explosive ordnance contamination that will be used to plan clearance operations, both now and in the future.
The EU is also working in Chad through the ‘’PRODECO’’ project. Securing land enables communities to reclaim areas that previously represented a danger and to develop economic activities there, while clearing roads facilitates access to medical and educational facilities. The Prodeco project works not only to prevent new accidents but also to reintegrate victims into the local social fabric, both by increasing their physical autonomy through the free care of their rehabilitation and equipment, but also by providing them with personalised social support so that they are gradually released from their precarious situation.
In the framework of this project, an innovative solution consisting of using drones with infrared cameras to locate mines is now being tested in Chad. This would allow to reduce considerably the amount of time needed for demining operations and would mean safer work for deminers.
Since 2016, EU-funded HALO Ukraine have removed hundreds of explosive items, from landmines to cluster bombs, spread across 420 hectares of land. HALO Ukraine also teach people, particularly children, how to stay safe. The project operates across Donetsk and Luhansk regions. It is thanks to deminers like Olga Kislovskaya that progress is made: “This is the best job I have ever had! I love it!” Olga Kislovskaya, Team Leader, HALO Ukraine.
EU support of the HALO Trust in Sri Lanka is enabling clearance of the former front line where tens of thousands of landmines were laid. Several hundred protracted Internally Displaced Persons will be able to resettle to land that was engulfed by the conflict.
The European Union and its Member States are parties to the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention, and are strongly united in banning the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of anti-personnel mines. The Convention is an example of what the EU stands for: a rules-based international order, rooted in the respect for human rights and international humanitarian law. Therefore, the EU urges countries that have not yet done so to accede to the Convention.
The United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) Iraq is bringing its photo exhibition “Safe Home” to the Esplanade of the European Parliament in Brussels later this year (date tbc). The EU co-funded this exhibition which showcases UNMAS’ work on demining through photos by Cengiz Yar, a photographer who has worked for National Geographic. The photos have since been reformatted and re-scaled for easy set-up in indoor and outdoor spaces. More than 100,000 visitors attended the exhibition’s debut last year at Photoville Festival in New York City. The exhibition has also been displayed in Berlin and Geneva.
Download the brochure on The European Union’s Support for Mine Action across the World by clicking on the image below.
The projects mentioned in this story have been funded through different EU instruments including: The EU Regional Trust Fund in response to the Syrian crisis, the EU’s Instrument contributing to Stability and Peace and the European Neighbourhood Instrument.