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Iraq: Saving lives and limbs through mine awareness

Explosive weapons
Iraq

Since the beginning of its emergency response in Iraq in 2014, Handicap International has conducted mine risk education activities in several of the country’s governorates. Improving the safety of internally displaced people, returnees and local populations is one of the organisation’s main goals in the region.  

Two brothers look at the leaflets left by Handicap International’s team, at the end of a session.

Two brothers look at the leaflets left by Handicap International’s team, at the end of a session. | © E.Fourt / Handicap International

Sarah, who manages Handicap International’s mine risk education activities in Kirkuk, she sets out on her daily round.

“When I was young, my family and I fled Baghdad. I was only six at the time, but I still remember it very clearly. We set off on foot and walked in line, one behind the other, for hours.”

“Every time we drifted out of the line, my father would beg us to come back to the centre of the road, with a worried look on his face,” she remembers. “I was too young to understand why at the time. Now my job is to give that kind of advice to others.”

Getting safety messages across

Every day, with her colleagues, Sarah conducts sessions in homes and schools, to provide displaced people or people living in contaminated areas with information on the risk of mines and unexploded devices. After decades of war, Iraq is one of the most contaminated countries in the world, by conventional weapons and improvised devices.

However, according to our assessments, people are not aware of the risks related to these devices. That’s why the work done by Sarah and her team is essential: they make sure safety messages get through to people and, as a result, prevent the risk of injury or death.

“At times, the beneficiaries are apprehensive of our presence. They ask us how a mine risk education session could improve their everyday life,” explains Sarah. “I always tell them that what we bring them is invisible, we come with a gift: the gift of life. It usually does not take more than one session for them to understand the vital aspect of our action.”

Visiting families at risk

Every day, Sarah and her colleagues visit several families in neighbourhoods previously identified by Handicap International.

In the first house Sarah and her colleagues visit, the team provides a session to a displaced family from the governorate of Salah Al Din. Having fled the Islamic State when the group arrived in their town, the family listens carefully to the advice given.

The father makes a couple of jokes to release the tension, but everyone seems to focus on what they are being told. They’re keen to understand how to respond to this danger and they are aware of how important the session is.

The same day, they also meet a father and ex-soldier, a victim of torture, and another family that has already bought a mine detector to use for when they will get back home. Each person’s story is unique, but they all have something in common. These people had to leave their home against their will and all of them are longing to return.

It won't go on forever

“I understand them,” says Sarah. “I went through the same things as them. For most of my life, I’ve been a refugee in a neighbouring country or internally displaced in several governorates due to the conflicts in Iraq. It’s easy to lose hope under these circumstances.”

“So, often, when I meet our beneficiaries, I share my story with them. I want them to know that it won’t go on forever, that they need to be patient, and that it’s not impossible to return to normality.”

Sarah’s commitment inspires the people she meets. She uses the sessions she conducts with the teams to guarantee them a more stable future, so that one day they can finally know the joy of returning home, in total safety.

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