Afghan Returnees Face Increased Risk from Mines & Explosive Remnants of War
Undocumented returnees and refugees returning to Afghanistan from neighbouring countries face an increased risk of harm from mines and explosive remnants of war (ERW). The current influx of returnees has meant a shift in focus for the Danish Demining Group’s (DDG) Risk Education programme in Afghanistan.
Afghanistan has been experiencing a massive influx of returnees, with 620,000 Afghans returning from neighbouring countries in 2016 alone. Primarily from Pakistan, this return is occurring as a result of a deteriorating protection environment. This is taking place despite ongoing armed altercations between government forces and non-state armed groups in Afghanistan, which have led to a rise in the number of casualties from mines and explosive remnants of war (ERW). According to the Directorate of Mine Action Coordination, the first eight months of 2017 saw a staggering 1,384 civilian casualties. Returnees are relatively more at risk of injury or death than other civilian populations, as they are not familiar with ongoing conflict patterns or safe behaviour. As a result, they require targeted risk education.
DDG’s Risk Education sessions aim to increase awareness of such threats among returnees, with many having spent the majority, if not all, of their lives outside Afghanistan. One woman who attended a risk education session at Torkham, a major border crossing with Pakistan, stated that, “I did not have any knowledge of mines and other ERW before this session, because we have lived in Pakistan for thirty years”.
Similarly, one father emphasised that although his family were returning home, it had been so long that they did not know Afghanistan or understand the threats well anymore. He elaborated on why he therefore wanted his family to attend the risk education session: “I attended because I have not seen any mines or ERW in my life, and I think it will be a big concern for me and my family when we return to our village. Due to ongoing conflicts, mines and ERW are everywhere and unfortunately my family does not have enough knowledge about it”.
DDG has therefore deployed twenty mixed-gender risk education teams to stations along border crossings, at UNHCR Encashment Centres and International Organisation for Migration (IOM) Transit Centres, where returnees receive services including registration, vaccination and other forms of humanitarian assistance. These teams provide risk education to returnees immediately upon their arrival, warning them before they move into unknown and potentially contaminated areas.
Since the returnees are on the move, they stay at the UNHCR and IOM facilities for only short amounts of time. This sometimes requires DDG to complete their sessions in less than ten minutes, highlighting the most important safety messages. To meet this need, DDG has established a risk education “walk-through”, where returnees move through visual representations of potential dangers and learn about safe and unsafe behaviour.
The immediate results are clear: surveys taken before and after risk education at the UNHCR Kabul Enchashment Centre showed that the percentage of returnees who could identify mine and ERW markings rose from 15% to 100%.
DDG started its operations in Afghanistan in 1998 and has been an integral part of the Mine Action Programme of Afghanistan.