Middle East and North Africa

Returning Raqqa Christians face threat of Islamic State landmines

Church in Raqqa before and after Islamic State

Syrian Christians looking to return to Raqqa now face a new danger, in the form of an unknown number of homemade landmines left behind by Islamic State (IS).

Since the northern Syrian city was liberated from IS in October 2017, hundreds of civilians, including 157 children have been injured by antipersonnel mines and improvised explosive devices planted by Islamist militants.

Raqqa had a notable Christians presence prior to 2013, when the city fell to rebel groups. But when IS took control the entire Christian population was ordered to convert to Islam, pay the jizya tax, or risk being killed. Most of the Christian community fled.

By the start of January 2018, more than 14,500 families had returned to Raqqa. It is not known how many Christians may be among them. “If the situation does not change, the ISIS legacy of landmines will continue to kill for years”, says Nadim Houry, of Human Rights Watch.