Kobani: children as young as three already able to recognise shells and bombs

  • Explosive weapons
  • Syria

Amid the rubble and explosive remnants of war, life is slowly returning to Kobani. Handicap International has begun a race against time to provide people with risk education and to train local weapons clearance experts with a view to restoring the city and its surrounding fields to its inhabitants. Maelle, who coordinates our operations in the area, tells us what conditions are like on the ground.

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Leaflets are distributed to children in Kobani as part of Handicap International's  risk education activities.
Leaflets are distributed to children in Kobani as part of Handicap International's  risk education activities.
Leaflets are distributed to children in Kobani as part of Handicap International's risk education activities.

Life amid the ruins

Before Maelle arrived in Kobani, her colleague warned her: “You’ll see, it’s as if the city has been hit by five earthquakes in a row.” But after nearly four months, Maelle has grown used to her surroundings: “It’s only when I returned to the city with someone who was visiting for the first time that the scale of the devastation really hit me again. When I saw the terror in his eyes, it reminded me of how I felt when I arrived.”

But life amid the ruins is changing fast, and things are better organised than before. “People are really enthusiastic about this region. They’re returning because they want to work their land, clear the roads, and reopen the markets, hospitals and schools. Everything’s happening really fast, but while that’s great to see, it’s important to remember that this area has one of the highest density of explosive remnants of war per square metre in the world. We can help people returning to the region by providing them with risk education on these explosive remnants of war; we need to identify these weapons, neutralise them, then organise clear-up operations in a way that avoids setting off devices buried under the rubble. This is the challenge we’re facing right now, and we’re working hard to overcome it.”

Handicap International is one of the first and few NGOs present on the ground, and there’s no time to lose. The organisation is conducting risk education at border crossings for returning refugees, and it even organises individual sessions in the city, going from door to door, trying to prevent as many accidents as possible.

Everyone has an explosive remnant of war or a booby trap near their home

“People are keen to get this information and they’re already well aware of the risks. I was really surprised to meet children who could barely speak but who could already recognise explosive devices from a list of objects. Everyone has an explosive remnant of war or a booby trap near their home or a relative’s home. They can only live with it, until it’s destroyed or taken away. The problem is that people in Kobani are used to living with these devices and they end up underestimating the risks. Our role is to persuade them to take as many precautions as possible and to organise safe clearance operations.”

Clearance experts are currently being trained and assisted by Handicap International’s instructors and will be operational very soon.

We'll find explosive remnants of war for years to come

“They are from Kobani and the surrounding area, which is important for us because the clearance is going to take a long time. However hard we work, we know we’re going to continue finding explosive remnants of war for years to come, so people will always need to be on hand to neutralise them. Kobani received a lot of media coverage, which raised a lot of hopes, but we need to prepare ourselves for the long haul, and that’s going to require a lot of energy and patience. The demining work, the clearing of thousands of tonnes of rubble, under which explosive devices are often hidden, and then the reconstruction, are going to take up a lot of time and resources.”

Published 16/09/15

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