Violence inflicted by various political actors, including the ISIS caliphate, has displaced millions of Syrians during the ongoing Syrian civil war. The unrest has left homes, schools and farm fields destroyed, while water shortages and limited health care supplies in the northeastern part of the country have led to an increase in disease. For nearly a decade, these conditions have devastated the country’s economy and brought an increase in crime.
Those returning home — especially in areas such as Ar Raqqah and Al Hasakah — may find the land to be treacherous, filled with landmines, shards from bombardments and other hazardous materials left behind from years of war.
“The areas that were under the Islamic State’s control are faced with particularly damaging contamination and the presence of improvised explosive devices, which are often specifically designed and laid in ways to harm as many people as possible,” said Nejc Horvat, a representative from ITF Enhancing Human Security. Based in Ljubljana, Slovenia, ITF is a non-profit organization devoted to eliminating post-conflict threats, including landmines and explosive remnants of war.
In December 2019, the Order began collaborating with ITF and the Austrian Development Agency to clear more than 2.6 million square meters of land once controlled by ISIS. The effort is to assist in the safe return of displaced communities to their homes.
“The generous financial contribution of the Knights of Columbus was instrumental in ITF and its partners being able to implement their project in northeast Syria safely and efficiently in spite of the numerous challenges encountered since its start,” Horvat said. “ITF has enjoyed a great working relationship with the Knights of Columbus and hopes to collaborate in more endeavors aiding people suffering in post-conflict zones.”
He added, “Our team also encountered several groups of Bedouin sheepherders that are now using the cleared land for their winter migration, which is proof that efforts supported by Knights of Columbus are vital.”
Through its continued partnership with the Knights of Columbus, ITF is educating thousands of Syrians on safe behaviors, should they encounter an explosive hazard. The organization hopes to clear an additional 750,000 square meters by the end of March 2021.
“ITF greatly appreciates the generous contribution of the Knights of Columbus towards our common goal of making northeast Syria a safer place for all those residing there and for all those who plan on returning in the future,” Horvat said. “Today, donor support is needed more than ever, and it means a lot to ITF that the Knights of Columbus has joined us on our mission to aid the most vulnerable communities.”
The Knights of Columbus has played a significant role in bringing relief to persecuted Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East, contributing more than $25 million to rebuild targeted communities, as well as playing a pivotal role in Secretary of State John Kerry’s declaration that ISIS had committed genocide against Christians and other religious minorities in the region. Last August, Supreme Knight Carl Anderson announced that the Order would report on Christian persecution in Nigeria, where at least 60,000 Christians have been killed in the past two decades.
To learn more about the Knights of Columbus’ efforts in the Middle East, click here.
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