International Day of Mine Action: Desperate need for weapons clearance and risk education to protect civilians in Syria

London, 4th April 2013. Since the beginning of 2012, Syria has been the only country in the world to have used anti-personnel mines. The intensive bombing of the current conflict has also left behind a trail of unexploded devices, including cluster munitions, which pose a serious and lasting threat to civilians in Syria. Today, on the International Day of Mine Action, Handicap International has condemned the use of these barbaric weapons and is calling for immediate measures to protect civilians .

Handicap International is alarmed at the current situation in Syria, which provides further distressing proof of the continued threat posed by landmines. The organisation is calling on the international community to condemn the use of these weapons in the strongest terms and to help operators in the field undertake immediate measures to protect civilians. There is a desperate need for weapons clearance and risk education in Syria, due to the widespread contamination by mines and unexploded devices.

Syria was the only country in the world to use anti-personnel mines in 2012. On 1st November 2011, a Syrian army official told the media that “Syria has undertaken measures to secure its borders, including the planting of mines”. According to the 2012 Landmine Monitor Report, mines were laid on the Turkish border near Hasanieih, Derwand, Alzouf, al-Sofan, Armana, Bkafla, Hatya, Darkosh, Salqin and Azmeirin, and the Lebanese border in al-Buni, Tall Kalakh, Kneissi, Heet and Masharih al-Qaa. The Landmine Monitor Report also pointed to the repeated use of IEDs by Syrian rebels, including Molotov cocktails and remotely-detonated devices.

The Syrian government has also made continued and widespread use of cluster munitions in recent months. More than one hundred sites have been targeted, including Lattakia, Al-Tah, Tel Rifaat, Taftanaz, Ghouta, Deir al-Assafir, Idlib and Latamneh. Cluster munitions were last reported to have been used on 28th February and 2nd March in Deir Jamal (Aleppo district) and Talbiseh (Homs district).

Since the start of the conflict in Syria, the use of mines and the presence of unexploded devices left behind by intensive bombing campaigns have resulted in extensive contamination. This puts the lives of people living in these areas at permanent risk, along with those returning home once the fighting has ended.

Handicap International runs risk education programmes to make civilians more aware of these dangers and to prevent accidents. Around 9,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan have already benefited from these sessions, to prepare them for the danger that awaits them on their eventual return to Syria.

According to Handicap International’s weapons advocacy manager, Marion Libertucci: “Due to the intensity of the violence in Syria and widespread contamination by mines and unexploded devices, there is a desperate need for weapons clearance and risk education. Our experience of mines clearance and prevention in 47 countries tells us that the threat will remain long after the conflict has ended. We don’t know the whole picture yet because we haven’t been able to visit all of the affected areas. We could find that things are even worse than we first feared. We need to take action now to limit the risk to civilians and save lives” .

Every year, at least 4,300 people worldwide fall victim to mines or unexploded devices – the equivalent of one victim every two hours. More than 70% are civilians, of whom 42% are children. Most of the hundreds of thousands of mine accident survivors around the world will need assistance for life. However, funding for victim assistance has dropped by over 30% in the last twelve months to a record low, compromising the provision of care.

Over the last 15 years, some 4,000 sq.km. of mined land has been cleared and 135 million mines destroyed. Despite this, millions of mines still contaminate more than 60 countries, some of which were planted more than 50 years ago.

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About Handicap International
Co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Handicap International is an international aid organisation working in situations of poverty and exclusion, conflict and disaster. Working alongside people with disabilities and vulnerable populations, we take action and raise awareness in order to respond to their essential needs, improve their living conditions and promote respect for their dignity and fundamental rights. Handicap International is a co-founder of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines and the Cluster Munition Coalition. www.handicap-international.org.uk

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Co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Handicap International is an independent charity working in situations of poverty and exclusion, conflict and disaster. We work tirelessly alongside disabled and vulnerable people in over 60 countries worldwide.

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Quotes

Due to the intensity of the violence in Syria and widespread contamination by mines and unexploded devices, there is a desperate need for weapons clearance and risk education.
Marion Libertucci, Handicap International weapons advocacy manager