For 32 years, MAG has been driven by our vision of a safe future for everyone affected by violence, conflict and insecurity. MAG is taking this week to thank our supporters for helping us to reach more than 20 million women, men, girls, and boys in 70 countries across the world. The story below is from 2019.
Garmesh village is nestled at the base of Mount Sinjar — a rocky peak that has long been considered a sacred refuge for the persecuted Yazidi community in Iraq.
Yazidis are a minority religious group — they believe the mountain was the final resting place of Noah’s Ark.
"This is our land, we have been here a long time," says Salam Garmes who lives in Garmesh with his wife, brother, father and three children. "My grandfather had to flee from persecution and settled here 70 years ago."
Yazidi communities suffered some of the worst atrocities at the hands of ISIS, who used abduction and the rape of women and young girls as weapons of war while planting hundreds of thousands of deadly landmines and other devices.
Salam was in Garmesh when ISIS advanced on the village in 2014, "I was part of the resistance here," he recalls. "They came at us with heavy weapons, they tried to come and take the women and kill us, but we did not give up."
After a week of heavy fighting, ISIS returned with armoured vehicles and forced the villagers to seek refuge on Mount Sinjar — building makeshift defences to hold off the heavily armed fighters.
"Once the defences were set up, I crossed over to Syria to the west and went north and then into Kurdistan," remembers Salam, who would later join the Peshmerga forces fighting against ISIS. "I lost many friends and relatives in the fighting."
Salam was desperate to return to Garmesh. Many months after being forced to flee his homeland and with ISIS on the retreat in Iraq, Salam and his family were finally able to go home.
The Garmesh to which they returned, however, was a very different place. Of the 22 homes in the village, 20 had been destroyed by ISIS explosive devices or air-strikes.
"Me and my relatives found the village was very dangerous. There were landmines everywhere," Salam explains.
Salam was desperate to do all he could to make his village safe for his family — and for the families he hoped would return after the defeat of ISIS.
But tragedy struck when he tried to clear the improvised landmines ISIS had laid across his village.
"There was a huge explosion when we cut a wire. I was trapped under rubble and both my legs were smashed," says Salam. "I was rescued and sent to Kurdistan for treatment. I came back six weeks later when my injuries allowed and tried to clear more mines."
Salam knew what he was doing was deadly and dangerous, but until MAG got to Garmesh, he felt like he had no other choice.
"One day a guy from MAG came to see me and told me to stop what I was doing as it would kill me," he remembers of his first encounter with the MAG clearance teams in Sinjar. "He gave me a phone number and told me to call whenever a landmine was found and MAG would come and destroy it safely."
MAG teams found a deadly legacy of occupation. ISIS planted a minefield between the village and the main road and laid mines throughout the area to stop anyone fleeing to the relative safety of Mount Sinjar.
MAG is working in Garmesh and across Sinjar to clear the explosive remnants of ISIS, to make it safe for families to return to their homes and live, work and play free from fear.
For Salam, landmine clearance means he no longer has to fear for the lives of his children; “words cannot describe how thankful we are to MAG. Our children mean everything to us and we know they will be safe thanks to MAG.”