The shared story of MAG and MAG America travels around the world, with community roots in the United Kingdom and United States.
British Army engineer Rae McGrath witnessed firsthand the horrific impact on civilians of landmines and unexploded bombs while working in Afghanistan. He also saw how these weapons were hindering reconstruction and aid delivery.
McGrath returned to the UK determined to find ways to protect communities and, in 1989, set up the Mines Advisory Group with his brother Lou. Their HQ was a caravan near Cockermouth in England's Lake District.
MAG’s initial role was to draw the world’s attention towards the issue of landmines. Between 1990 and 1991, the brothers carried out two assessment missions to Afghanistan and Cambodia, hoping their findings would mobilize governments and international agencies.
Deaths and injuries were common in Afghanistan, with returning refugees being directed back to villages still contaminated by landmines. Rae McGrath remembers:
“There was one young boy. His small body had been absolutely shattered by a Soviet-laid POM-Z fragmentation mine. His family urged us to take his photograph to show the world the consequences of these weapons, which we did.”
The boy died from his injuries just hours later.
In 1991, during the Gulf War, the Iraqi army under Saddam Hussein started to lay hundreds of new minefields across the Kurdistan region still contaminated from the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s. Civilians, often children, were the primary victims.
Lou and Rae undertook a mission to determine the extent of the problem.
“We saw some absolutely horrific injuries,” says Lou. "Often because people were trying to clear the mines themselves. It was then we had the idea of developing mine risk education.”
The Iraq program of 1992 paved the way for further MAG programs worldwide. By 1994, additional operations were up and running in Angola, Cambodia and Laos.
1992-1997: Partnerships & Peace Prize
In 1992, MAG joined forces with Human Rights Watch, Medico International, Handicap International, Physicians for Human Rights and the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation to form the coalition International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL).
The many years devoted to campaigns, research and lobbying against the arms trade paid off in 1997 when the Ottawa Treaty – banning the production and use of anti-personnel mines – was signed by 122 countries.
Later that year, the ICBL jointly received the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of its efforts.
1997: Diana, Princess of Wales
Before her untimely death in August 1997, Diana, Princess of Wales spoke out against the production and use of landmines and made several visits to affected countries, including Angola.
Lady Diana developed close ties with MAG and was the keynote speaker at a MAG photographic exhibition in London. Two decades later, in April 2017, her son His Royal Highness The Duke of Sussex continued her work by helping MAG launch the Landmine Free 2025 campaign to lobby for a world free of landmines by 2025.
1999: Expansion to new communities
The following years saw further expansion of MAG's operations into Vietnam (1999), Lebanon (2000), Sri Lanka (2001) and the Democratic Republic of Congo (2004).
Alongside clearance efforts, MAG strove to involve and empower local communities through training and employment. The work challenged many perceptions and stigmas in countries where women and disabled people were generally regarded as second-class citizens and relegated to the lowest strata of society.
2002: MAG America
In 2002, MAG launched their U.S. office, MAG America, in the nation's capital of Washington, D.C.
Since the establishment of the MAG America office, the two teams have worked in close collaboration to raise awareness and funds for the lifesaving work of MAG demining teams around the world.
2006: Rapid response programs
MAG is often one of the first agencies that enters into conflict zones. We sent emergency response teams into Lebanon in 2006 and Gaza in 2009.
From a two-man operation in a caravan in 1989, MAG has become a major international organization, setting new standards for humanitarian mine clearance and innovative approaches. Our risk education programs, community liaison teams, and flexible multi-skilled mine action teams make a real difference on the ground in communities affected by mines and unexploded bombs.
2014: New threats
Almost twenty years after the historic Ottawa Treaty, the world faced a new landmine emergency. The ISIS/Daesh insurgency in Iraq in 2014 resulted in a scale of landmine contamination not seen for decades, worsening an already complex humanitarian crisis.
Largely because of this new contamination in the Middle East, global deaths and injuries from landmines hit a ten-year high in 2015 – a staggering 75 percent increase on those recorded in 2014.
Some of these locally-made landmines are sensitive enough to be triggered by a child but powerful enough to disable a tank.
MAG responded quickly by clearing the land in post-conflict areas, work that continues today. This has enabled the safe expansion of camps for Syrian refugees and internally displaced people, as well as making areas safe again for people wanting to return home to newly liberated areas.
2025: Landmine Free
On April 4, 2017, twenty years after the signing of the Ottawa Treaty, Landmine Free 2025 was launched.
The Landmine Free 2025 campaign is a call to action to work together to do more, faster, to make the world landmine free by 2025.
Hi Royal Highness Prince Harry joined MAG and The HALO Trust at a joint event held at Kensington Palace, calling for governments worldwide to deliver on their promise to rid the world of landmines.
To date, 29 countries have been cleared of landmines, but 63 are still contaminated.
The campaign aims to re-energize support for landmine clearance and ensure people affected by landmines are not forgotten.