Returning back to your home after a long spell of occupation by Islamic State (IS) militants is not always as straight forward as possible.
Adamant to cause as much chaos, strain and danger as possible for those returning to, often times, demolished and broken homes and neighborhoods, the IS continue to exert psychological and physical damage to the men, women and children of Raqqa by planting mines in areas it withdraws from.
This “post combat warfare” tactic represents not only a major obstacle for citizens who wish to return to a normal life but also one of the biggest dangers hindering the progress of forces fighting the terrorist organisation. Funding for the identification and clean-up efforts of these booby traps is low, especially in areas like Raqqa, where there is no government presence and thus little to no government funding. As a result, locals have to take the initiative to deal with these threats.
Roj Mine Control Organization, or RMCO as it is commonly called, is one such organisation. The organisation operates in former IS territories across the Raqqa countryside and has the goal of removing anti-personnel landmines, cluster bombs and remnants of war explosive mines left by the IS. Khawat, an RMCO representative says “we found that the lives of the civilians are in great danger, especially the mined areas. It was our duty to establish this organisation. In accordance with our available resources, we have been working since September.”
But they are also suffering from a lack of funds, equipment and man power. With two teams consisting of five per team they cannot cover all the ground they need to remove all the mines. Things get even more difficult when considering that “Some of these mines explode remotely while others explode automatically when approached.” Dozens of victims, most of whom are shepherds and villagers from Raqqa countryside, have already died in landmine explosions since returning home.
With this constant danger facing the people of Raqqa movement is severely limited, hindering farmers from working the land, children going to school and people from getting on with daily life as usual. What is bitter sweet about the situation is the fact that the IS slowly loses more ground in Syria and Iraq but as they retreat they leave behind them a trail of destruction, logistical nightmares, and continual psychological tyranny for the citizens and armed forces.
Nevertheless, community clean-up efforts thus far remain robust with 6300 mines already removed by RMCO and more specialist help is finding its way to the affected areas as need is becoming more apparent. The people of Raqqa still have a lot to face, but with a strong spirit and reliable post war aide, the pieces of their lives will slowly come back together.