Hundreds of civilians have been killed and injured by IEDs and landmines that remained in the city after the defeat of the Islamic State by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
“The defeat of ISIS in Raqqa was heralded as a global international victory, but international support for dealing with the aftermath of the battle, and notably the deadly legacy of mines, has not risen to the challenge,” said Nadim Houry, HRW terrorism/counterterrorism program director. He added that the number of casualties will likely rise as more people return to the city.
According to data collected by HRW, at least 491 persons, including 157 children, were injured in mines explosions between October 21, 2017 and January 20, 2018. The actual number is likely higher, since many people have died before they could reach medical assistance.
The Raqqa Civilian Council, established by the SDF, urged people not to return to the city before the mines had been found and destroyed. However, despite the warning, many local citizens decided to come back because they feared looting or wanted to leave camps for the displaced.
Such people often resort to the services of locals turned minesweepers, whi are ill-equipped and lack skills necessary for safe demining.
Raqqa was captured by SDF in October 2017, after a three-month-long campaign, supported by the US-led coalition, which was accompanied by a major destruction. Although the coalition, and the US in particular, pledged to restore the city, no clear plan or funding scheme have been set so far.