Nestled in the north-eastern hills of Bosnia and Herzegovina, surrounded by forests and overgrown meadows, Orahovica is a village that has suffered from the legacy of a war which ripped through its heart more than two decades ago.
The arable land here is ideal for collecting firewood, rearing livestock and harvesting fruit and other crops.
But during the 1990s when the Yugoslav Wars were in full force; Bosnian, Serbian and Croatian troops ran through the area causing its residents to flee in fear of their lives.
The majority of the Bosnian Serb community either left for other parts of the country or moved to neighbouring states as refugees.
Despite two decades having passed since the end of the conflict, many villagers have been unable to return to their homeland due to landmine contamination.
In the upper part of Orahovica, close to where MAG teams have been working, there were 15 houses which were home to 50 people. For decades, they laid empty.
Bego, a shepherd, was one of the few people who returned to the area soon after the war was over.
He was left with no choice but to clear dense vegetation in order to rear his sheep.
Terrified of what dangers faced him, he would send his flock ahead of him when going out into the fields.
“It was a total catastrophe,” he said. “Everything was overgrown, destroyed and there were now landmines.”
Now 26 years have passed and Bego owns 73 sheep which he rears and sells to provide for his family. He also sells milk from his small herd of cows to a dairy for additional income.
He has built up an in-depth knowledge of the land and where deadly mines lie in the undergrowth.
Years of traversing the area and also speaking to other local residents have broadened his understanding of where the danger lurks.
He told MAG staff how Bosniaks and Serbs liaise with each other about the risk areas to keep each other safe until the land is cleared – a tactic which may have saved many lives.
In May 2019, MAG started worked in Orahovica. Since then, the team has declared safe more than 700,000 m² of land, destroying 351 anti-personnel mines and 48 explosive items. It is expected that MAG’s work will contribute to a further 1.39km² of safe land in the area being released back to the community by the national authority.
Now the area is cleared, the safe land is being released back to the local community. It will provide returnees with the safety and freedom from fear they need for sustainable living.
“Everyone wants to return to their homeland,” Bego says.
Bego’s work in sharing information has been vital to making the area safe. And he is among 1,500 people who will directly benefit from MAG’s work with the community.
Bego is planning to get more sheep now so he can better provide for his family.