Coming Home: Tragedy and Hope in Iraq
By Thomas Kemper*
Last year, 68.5 million people around the world were forcibly displaced due to war, persecution or natural disaster.
It’s the greatest number in world history - someone displaced every two seconds.
Rohingya refugees in displacement camps welcomed the presence of the United Methodist Committee on Relief after government militia attacked their villages, burning their homes, crops and places of worship to the ground. Puerto Ricans who lost their homes and everything they owned to Hurricane Maria, the worst natural disaster on record to affect the island, received relief from UMCOR as well.
With these and other well-publicized disasters, UMCOR delivered food, water, shelter, and long-term recovery assistance - working to return lives to normal.
But many disasters don’t make the headlines. They deserve our immediate attention, too.
Imagine being driven from your home by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria - ISIS - only to return to discover your child’s swing set has been booby-trapped with an explosive device. Thousands of innocent civilians have been injured or killed in northern Iraq after bombs were hidden in or around people’s homes - in their toys, furniture and appliances. Laced with explosives, these everyday household objects became opportunities for destruction instead of opportunities for prosperity.
Since 2017, UMCOR International Disaster Response has partnered with the Mines Advisory Group to save lives and ensure a safer future for men, women and children affected by the conflict in Iraq.
The clearing of landmines and unexploded ordnance is taking place in Nineveh Governate, specifically the area surrounding Mosul, the governate’s largest city. Currently, UMCOR is working to clear at least 300 acres of landmines, booby traps and other deadly items of unexploded ordnance in the Hamdaniya District.
A deminer in protective gear working to deactivate an explosive device. PHOTO: SEAN SUTTON/MAG/PANOS PICTURES
“The grant is important because in the first 10 months of 2016,” says Laurie Felder, director of IDR, “5,566 civilians were killed and 10,392 civilians injured by explosive weapons in Iraq.” Many of these civilians were killed or injured when they came home, having previously fled in fear.
When deadly explosives are destroyed, displaced persons regain the basic human right of physical safety. They experience the relief of returning home in peace, without the worry of violence being the first thing to greet them.
“Regardless of the different places, cultures and structures that people all over the world refer to as ‘home,’ the word has a deep meaning and importance for us all. It’s where you can be yourself; it’s a sanctuary” says Felder. “Facilitating a safe return home for people who have had to flee and return to find their sanctuaries no longer a safe place … is what we are addressing in this grant. It is allowing people an actual safe return home and a return to normalcy in their lives.”
With each landmine removed from the ground, the state of “normalcy” grows in its place. As people reestablish their lives, their communities begin to rebuild as well. Crops are planted, and the fields produce a harvest. Roads provide safe passage for a child’s walk to school or a mother’s trip to the market. Homes are places of communion with self and others. They are truly sanctuaries.
For those in our world who are displaced from home by disasters of all types - ethnic conflict, hurricanes or even landmines - our challenge is simple but urgent: to stretch out arms of compassion.
For the past 80 years, the United Methodist Committee on Relief has worked to alleviate human suffering in all forms and serve the most vulnerable among us. I urge you to join them in this work, ensuring that all of God’s children experience “home” as a place of hope.
Consider a gift to UMCOR International Disaster Response today. Give here.
*Thomas Kemper is the general secretary of Global Ministries.