Raqqa’s Landmines Endanger Those Who Wish to Return Home

ICC Note: Homemade landmines are scattered all across Raqqa, previously the capitol of ISIS’s so-called caliphate. Raqqa was once home to several Christian families, but their lives were greatly restricted and endangered because of ISIS. The militants knew where each family lived, and caused them to suffer greatly. The families would eventually flee in fear. The news that landmines are everywhere in the city only further worries Christians that they can still be singled out for attack despite ISIS’s physical absence. Most Christians will simply not return home to Raqqa, even while their Muslim neighbors begin to do so.

02/11/2018 Syria (Human Rights Watch) –  Homemade landmines have killed and injured hundreds of civilians, including more than 150 children, in Raqqa, Syria since the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) was pushed out of the city in October 2017, Human Rights Watch said today.

ISIS had planted the antipersonnel mines when it controlled the city. They include devices often called booby traps or improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Most appeared to be victim-activated and therefore banned under international law.

“The defeat of ISIS in Raqqa was heralded as a global international victory, but international support for dealing with the aftermath of the battle, and notably the deadly legacy of mines, has not risen to the challenge,” said Nadim Houry, terrorism/counterterrorism program director at Human Rights Watch. “Explosive devices have already killed and injured hundreds of civilians, but these numbers will most likely increase as more people return.”

During a visit to the city in late January 2018, Human Rights Watch collected information from the Kurdish Red Crescent and international medical organizations working in the area. They found that between October 21, 2017 and January 20, 2018, mines injured at least 491 people, including 157 children, many of whom died. The actual number of victims is surely higher, as many people have died before reaching any medical assistance and those deaths were not necessarily reported.

Some members of the anti-ISIS coalition have donated funds for demining efforts, notably for clearing “critical infrastructure.” But local authorities in Raqqa and medical providers expressed concerns about the limited effort to clear residential areas and said there was a shortage of demining equipment and expertise. The situation has led Raqqa residents to pay local people, who are often ill-equipped, to risk their lives to demine homes.

According to local authorities, more than 14,500 families had returned to Raqqa, notably to neighborhoods on the outskirts of the city, like al-Meshleb, by December 20, 2017. The authorities expect that substantial numbers of people will continue to return, despite the high level of mine contamination and the limited services available in the heavily damaged city.

The Raqqa Civilian Council, which is in charge of the city, issued a directive on November 21 urging people not to return to their homes before neighborhoods had been cleared of mines and other explosive devices. However, many local residents whom Human Rights Watch interviewed said that they had returned to check on their homes despite the risks because they feared looting or wanted to avoid remaining in camps for the displaced.

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