Iraq: Stories from west Mosul
This three-year-old boy recently arrived at one of UNHCR’s camps for displaced families fleeing conflict in West Mosul. Credit: UNHCR/C.Gluck
In the maze of displacement sites close to Qayyarah town, 100 km south of Mosul, the streets are bustling. People are buying food from stalls or getting a shave and a haircut in the early spring sunshine.
On the night of 27 February, thousands of people from western Mosul began to arrive at the camps and emergency sites. In less than three hours, more than 2,500 people had arrived at the Qayyarah Airstrip emergency site. They were transported by buses from the screening site in Hammam al-Alil to the north, where security services identify suspected ISIL sympathizers from the thousands of fleeing civilians. People arrived tired and dehydrated, still shaken by the fear that they or their children could have been killed as they passed between the front lines.
Durra Mahmood and Halla Abid were among the arrivals. They had fled with two other families from their neighbourhood in south-western Mosul. Durra had been a civil servant working for the Ministry of Education in Mosul before ISIL came, and her husband had been a school headmaster. They had 14 children: seven sons and seven daughters. By the time Durra arrived at the Qayyarah Airstrip site, she had only two of her children with her: the others were still in Mosul. Her husband had been withheld at the screening site because two of his brothers were suspected ISIL members.
She said: “There is nothing in Mosul. No tomatoes, no rice. For four months we did not drink tea. For four months we did not have enough food.”
Their neighbourhood had been bombarded for days by indirect fire when the Army came to escort them out of the city. They walked for three hours before being put into trucks and transported to the screening site in Hammam al-Alil.
“The street was full of people fleeing,” said Halla, holding her small daughter’s shoulder tightly. “We stuck together in a group. Many people died, killed by mortar fire. A mortar fell on our house, but we were hiding under the stairs. For three days we lived under the stairs.”
Across the river in Hajj Ali camp, another 1,500 people arrived from south-western Mosul on the night of 27 February. Their neighbourhoods had been so badly damaged by indirect fire that many were forced to flee.
Suriya Mahmood and her family have been allocated a tent in Hajj Ali only recently, meaning they have not yet had time to remove the plastic wrappings from the new mattresses and blankets they received from humanitarian agencies. The mattresses are stacked against the wall of the tent. In one corner, the family’s supper is cooking on a small kerosene stove. In another corner, a toddler sleeps.
“After we left our homes, we walked for three hours,” says Suriya. “Then we were put into trucks. The elderly could sit, but the young had to stand. Families were staying close together. People left in bursts, group by group. I am old and can’t walk far, so the Army brought me in one of their vehicles.
“We ran from the shelling and because we were hungry. We had nothing. We couldn’t afford milk. The children were crying all night from hunger.”
She points at a young man sitting quietly to her right. “My son is a teacher. He hasn’t been paid since ISIL came to the city. The situation is miserable. I had to run away,” she adds, shaking her head.
Suriya’s family managed to escape together, except for one of her elder sons who is still in Mosul with his young family. “How can I speak to him?” she said. “I tried, and his phone is switched off. I don’t know the situation there. I only hear about the military progress. Many people are missing. They could be dead or held by ISIL. We don’t know.”
Over 57,000 people have been displaced from western Mosul since hostilities recommenced on 19 February. The new arrivals are being housed in displacement sites run by Government and humanitarian partners and provided with food and water, household items, fuel and medicine. Camps to the south of Mosul are filling and expanding rapidly. A further 11,800 fully serviced plots are being readied in camps to the north and east of the city, where smaller numbers of people displaced from western Mosul are beginning to arrive.
More than 215,000 people from Mosul and the surrounding area are currently living in displacement. More than 80 per cent of these people are in displacement sites and camps, where they are receiving humanitarian assistance.