Nestled in the northeastern 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.
During the 1990s, the Yugoslav Wars were in full force and Bosnian, Serbian, and Croatian troops battled throughout the village, causing 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 neighboring countries as refugees. After more than 20 years since conflict has ended, many villagers have been unable to return to their home due to landmine contamination.
Bego, pictured above, was one of the few people who returned to the area soon after the war was over. A shepherd, Bego was left with no choice but to clear the vegetation that had grown throughout his land while he was living away from the conflict.
“It was a total catastrophe,” he said. “Everything was overgrown and destroyed, and now there are landmines in the ground.”
In May 2019, MAG started worked in Orahovica. As of December, the team has cleared more than 173 acres of land, destroyed 351 landmines and 48 explosive items. Now that the area has been declared safe, the land is being released back to the local community. It will provide families with the safety and freedom from fear they need for sustainable living.
Bego now 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 also built up an in-depth knowledge of the land and where deadly mines lie in the undergrowth. 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 has saved many lives. 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.
“Everyone wants to return to their homeland,” Bego says.