The charity Handicap International is warning about the danger to civilians from weapons contamination in Mosul, Iraq. Since the launch of the military offensive in Mosul, more than 200,000 people have been displaced from their homes. The area surrounding the camps and villages affected by the conflict is now highly contaminated by explosive remnants of war. Civilians, particularly children, are being injured on a daily basis.
“The extent of contamination from conventional and improvised munitions is unbelievable. When visiting an area recently retaken by security forces, I witnessed scores of weapons within one small village. Many homes were destroyed and many which weren’t were littered with booby traps, patiently waiting to be triggered”, explains Catherine Smith, Mine action desk officer for Handicap International.
Handicap International’s teams on the ground are working to support the most vulnerable people displaced by the fighting. It is also one of the main organisations delivering life-saving mine risk education sessions to protect families as they flee to safer areas, or try to return home.
“The risk education provided by Handicap International covers the many types of explosive threats that populations might encounter when on the move or returning home. Our team are informing them how to behave when encountering improvised landmines and unexploded ordnance, for example. It’s a truly essential job in this hazardous environment”, adds Smith.
Handicap International teams are working to educate civilians - and try to target children who are particularly vulnerable -, to help protect them from the risks they are facing. Children are curious and don’t necessarily understand the danger, in many cases picking up an explosive device thinking it is a toy.
Children like Omar, a sixteen-year-old boy, who was injured in January 2017 in a town near Mosul.
“I’d gone to join my friends for a game of football. While I was waiting for them on some waste ground, a small metallic object caught my eye. I walked over to it and then bent down to pick it up. As soon as I touched it, there was a huge explosion.” says Omar. He was seriously injured; both of his legs were broken and he had to have several fingers and toes amputated.
“When we come across cases like Omar we realise how important it is to raise awareness about the horrific danger posed by weapons contamination. This is why our teams are not only treating victims of explosive weapons but we are also organising risk education sessions in the displacement camps and host communities around Mosul.” explains Aleema Shivji, Executive Director of Handicap International UK.
The level of contamination is unprecedented in Iraq. “Our Weapons clearance experts have already destroyed more than one thousand explosive remnants of war in just a few weeks.” says Aleema Shivji.
Interviews available upon request. Possibility to organise media visits with Handicap International teams in Iraq
Marlene Sigonney, Handicap International UK
+44 (0)870 774 3737
Handicap International and the Iraq crisis:
Handicap International has been working in Iraq for 25 years. Since 2014, the organisation has been supporting displaced Iraqis, working as close as possible to conflict zones, sometimes only one of the very few NGOs present in the country. Handicap International’s emergency projects have supported over 125,000 people in Iraq since 2014.
Handicap International is currently educating local populations about the risks of explosive weapons, conducting mine clearance, and surveying potential danger zones. We are also providing rehabilitation care and psychosocial support, supporting health centres (e.g.: equipment, staff training), supporting disabled and vulnerable people to access services, and ensuring they are included by other humanitarian organisations.