AMSTERDAM/NORTHERN SYRIA, April 4, 2017—As the front lines shift in northern Syria, explosive devices and mines are having a devastating impact on civilians, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières warned in a report released today, calling for urgently needed demining activities.
People fleeing their homes or returning to villages vacated by Islamic State (IS) fighters are finding a deadly landscape littered with mines, booby traps, and unexploded ordnance. Hundreds of people have been killed or maimed by devices planted in roads, fields, and houses, as documented in MSF’s report “Set to Explode,” which is based on the testimonies of MSF medical teams, patients and their families in northeastern Aleppo governorate and northern Raqqa governorate.
“It is extremely dangerous for people returning to their homes,” said Karline Kleijer, MSF emergency manager for Syria. “Booby traps have been planted everywhere—under the carpet, in the fridge, even in children’s teddy bears.”
Over the course of four weeks in the summer of 2016, hospital staff in the Manbij area alone received more than 190 people injured by blasts from explosive devices.
“Truckloads of injured patients started arriving at the hospital,” said an MSF doctor in Arin hospital. “To avoid the armed conflict, civilians took the roads they considered safe to travel on, but instead ended up in the minefields.”
Jasem, a resident of Jirn village, near Tal Abyad, described to MSF how he lives with two mines planted just yards from his doorstep.
“I can’t sleep because I’m always worried that one of my four children, or a dog or a sheep, will step on one of the mines around the house,” he said. “When an animal approaches the house, we all run away in case it detonates a mine.”
At present, few demining activities are being carried out, either by humanitarian or military organizations, prompting local people to do the job themselves—often with lethal consequences.
“People are risking their lives to make their villages safe,” said Kleijer. “We heard about five local men in Ayn Al Arab/Kobane who volunteered to clear houses of mines to earn some money. None of those men are alive today.”
Until areas are cleared, the threat posed by explosive devices and booby traps will continue to have a devastating impact, whether people are attempting to flee the fighting or returning to their homes. At the same time, the risks will deter aid organizations, causing yet more suffering to the population of the region, whose health system has been shattered by years of war.
MSF calls on all warring parties and their allies to ensure the protection of civilians and allow humanitarian demining activities to be carried out in northern Syria. MSF also calls on the international community to significantly increase its support to international demining organizations to increase their activities in northern Syria in order to ensure the safety of civilians and the provision of humanitarian aid.