Keme Nzerem, freelance journalist and reporter, led a riveting live panel discussion on Into The Fire, a documentary featuring a female-led Yazidi demining team in Sinjar, Iraq. The film by Orlando von Einsiedel, Academy Award-winning film director, was commissioned by the Nobel Prize, and is screened by National Geographic Documentary Films.
The event was attended by major funders, policy makers, high-profile influencers, supporters and advocates. Into The Fire gives the world unprecedented access to the work of MAG deminers in Iraq. It is estimated that Iraq has more unexploded remnants of war than any other country in the world.
“Do whatever you can. Whether it is sharing the film, writing to your political representatives, making donations, or getting in touch with organisations that are working on the ground such as MAG,” urged Keme. “It is so important that people with a voice speak when they can.”
The distinguished panellists comprised Abid Shamdeen, Orlando von Einsiedel, Rosamund Pike, Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman, and Portia Stratton.
Abid Shamdeen, (Executive Director of Nadia’s Initiative) who is from Sinjar, spoke of what it is like on the ground: “Not much attention has been put on the devastation, specifically in Sinjar, where 400,000 Yazidis fled their homes in 2014, the majority of whom are still displaced.
“The film crew saw first-hand the destruction ISIS left behind, in terms of burning and looting the schools, healthcare centres, hospitals and even people’s homes. Especially on the south side of Mount Sinjar, that territory was under ISIS for longer, so the amount of explosives that was left behind is devastating.
“There are villages that are considered no-go zones because of the amount of explosives. One of the biggest issues is that individual houses have been booby-trapped in sophisticated ways. No one can return to these villages without demining them first. I’m very happy to see results of MAG’s work to demine the area. People trust MAG, and we do too.”
Orlando von Einsiedel, director of the film, shared his experience filming Into The Fire and the power of story-telling: “I've never experienced this terror....people have to live with that every day. I'm drawn to stories of hope, stories like Hana's show that humans can always rebuild. I hope the film shines a light on what is happening in Sinjar. Sharing the film on your social media and telling your friends to watch it is one way to bring attention to all the issues we have been talking about.”
Rosamund Pike, (actor and long-term MAG supporter), said: “I am very drawn to stories of courage. I found the courage shown by all the MAG workers unbelievably inspiring. I think that Orlando’s film will reawaken the fact that this is still a very current issue. The devastation reigns for many, many years beyond the point when the world’s attention moves away.”
“Nobody who I have spoken to fails to be impressed by the manual labour and selfless commitment of the deminers. I think that the fact that this work is done by the communities clearing their own land from atrocities done by attacking forces, is just very moving.”
Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman, (Kurdistan Regional Government Representative to the US), highlighted the importance of international mechanisms to pursue justice for all those who have suffered: “Until there is some form of justice, I think it will be hard for communities to move on. We’ve seen that over and over again in Iraq, it has been the centre of violence, internal and external, for decades. Iraq, the Kurdistan region in Iraq, has suffered from mines for decades, many of us are grateful for MAG for the work they have done.”
“I want to touch on Orlando’s great work. It’s so wonderful to see these women empowered. It's also important to bear witness that what happened to them did happen to them. Bearing witness is a very human emotion, as a way of connecting with each other.”
Portia Stratton, (MAG Country Director for Iraq), spoke of the magnitude of the challenge. “Following the recent conflict with ISIS and seeing the scale of the contamination that they laid it is now widely estimated to be the most contaminated country in the world. They planted kilometre long minefields that run through agricultural areas, villages and around villages. The contamination is just as extreme in different countries now than it was 20 years ago. We are committed to upholding treaty frameworks and this film gives us a human voice as well and helps people understand the impact of this contamination.”
The documentary celebrates courage and perseverance, and the incredible work of Hana and her team, just one of hundreds of deminer teams across Iraq. MAG will keep working in Iraq, helping to build a safer future for communities like Hana’s.
In Hana’s own words from the film: “Every bomb we clear from the land helps us feel stronger.”
MAG CEO, Darren Cormack, closed the event thanking the panellists, the moderator, and the audience from around the world.
“Thank you for all for a wonderful discussion and powerful expressions of support. The priorities around the world will shift, but the relevance of our work and the needs of those communities impacted remain. You’ve asked us to bear witness to those people who influence decision makers and we will continue to do so.
“We are so grateful to the way that you have borne witness to our work Orlando, and Rosamund, to Bayan, Keme, and Abid and Portia. We too, by the stories you have told us, are greatly encouraged as an organisation working on this mission, we have that wind in our sails as well. Thank you for what you have done for MAG and for all the support that we have had tonight.”
You can watch the film Into the Fire here.