Koenders allocates more funds for demining in Iraq

‘Explosive remnants of war, like landmines, pose a great danger to these people, who are already traumatised. We must reduce that risk,’ foreign minister Bert Koenders said on Tuesday evening in New York. Together with British James Bond actor Daniel Craig, he addressed the attendees at a meeting on demining organised by the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS), in the margins of the UN General Assembly.

Mr Koenders is making an extra €2 million available this year for demining programmes and campaigns to raise public awareness of the dangers of mines in Iraq. Supporting these initiatives is part of the Dutch contribution to the anti-ISIS coalition. In addition to the military deployment in Iraq, the minister wants to help enhance stability and security in areas freed from ISIS’s control.

The crisis in Iraq has displaced 3 million people. They often want to go back once their home towns have been liberated. To facilitate their safe return, Mr Koenders is making €2 million available to Handicap International (HI) and the Mines Advisory Group (MAG), two organisations which run demining programmes in Iraq. ‘Through these programmes we can make the region safer for people returning home and at the same time teach people about the risks of unexploded mines,’ the minister said.

Mr Koenders says more public awareness is badly needed: unexploded ordnance claims 20 lives every week in northern Iraq. Some 62% of displaced persons returning home have never received any information about landmines. ‘We have to reduce that number,’ said Mr Koenders. ‘Half of the Iraqi population is unable to recognise a picture of a mine or other explosives. It’s important to inform them of the risks.’

A previous MAG project in Iraq, funded by the Netherlands, cleared more than 387,000 square metres of land of explosive remnants of war in 2014. The area was then used entirely for agriculture and camps for the returning population. And 11,000 people were instructed about the dangers of landmines. ‘If there are explosives lying around, it isn’t safe for people to go to school or work,’ said Mr Koenders. ‘Mines have a disruptive effect on communities. We cannot leave Iraqis who return home to fend for themselves.’

This year, the Netherlands is spending over €10 million on demining and instruction on the dangers of these weapons. The money goes to non-governmental organisations working towards ridding the world of mines completely by 2025. ‘That’s an ambitious goal, as there are still mines in 56 countries. But if the international community makes a concerted effort, it can be done,’ said the minister.

Ministry responsible