Kuwait City, Kuwait – The Israeli military has said that it has planted landmines along parts of the Gaza-Israel fence to prevent further infiltrations of the Palestinian armed group Hamas following its attack on southern Israel on October 7.
But laying mines has far-reaching consequences — especially for civilians — long after conflicts have ended.
More than three decades after the invasion of Kuwait in 1990-1991 by 100,000 Iraqi soldiers under Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, landmines and unexploded military ammunition still kill and injure civilians, some of whom were born after the end of the Gulf War.
While a United States-led international air and ground military operation defeated Iraqi troops in 43 days and forced them to retreat from Kuwait on February 28, 1991, it is estimated that Iraqi soldiers laid about two million landmines in Kuwait’s deserts, coastlines and cities, and abandoned large quantities of unexploded ordnance.
In the years that followed the end of the war, mine clearance operations took place in Kuwait and removed an estimated 1.65 million mines. Yet, the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) estimates that the country’s desert areas “remain contaminated with landmines and unexploded ordnance” and that the remaining 350,000 landmines are “yet to be located”. UNMAS did not respond to a request for an interview.
“I came to Kuwait because my dream is to travel the world, but instead I ended up in a desolate desert with landmines. On top of that, snakes and scorpions get into the tent where I live”, said Sunil Kumar. The 24-year-old Indian shepherd looks after a flock of sheep in the desert areas bordering a road linking Kuwait to Iraq, dubbed the “Highway of Death” since Operation Desert Storm’s forces bombed retreating Iraqi army units there in February 1991.
“My biggest fear is that if something happens to me, my body will likely not be repatriated to India. That is what happens to us, the poor people,” Kumar, 24, told Al Jazeera. Migrant workers who account for about 96 percent of Kuwait’s private sector workforce, face widespread labour rights abuses, including delayed or unpaid wages and long working hours. “It is my destiny to be here, so may God protect me,” added his co-worker, Younus Ali, a 30-year-old Bangladeshi shepherd who has been working in Kuwait’s desert for seven years.