As street fighting rages in Mosul, residents run for safety

20 March 2017

By: Andreas Needham

Since the operation in western Mosul began last month, over 100,000 residents have fled, with 32,000 in the last week alone

Displaced Iraqi children carry mattresses and other relief items to their shelters in Hasansham camp, Iraq. © HCR/Ivor Prickett

HASANSHAM, Iraq – Slipping out of west Mosul under cover of darkness, Safa gashed her foot on a jagged metal spike placed at the roadside by extremists to puncture the tyres of vehicles trying to reach Iraq’s embattled second city.

“As we got near to what we thought was a safe area, we saw lights and heard voices calling us to come closer, saying that they were the army. They weren’t, they were the extremists pretending to be friendly,” she recalled. “They shot dead two children and a woman. Later, others in our group buried them where they fell.”

She and her 35-year old taxi driver husband Alaa are among thousands of residents of the battered west of Mosul, dodging extremist bullets and booby traps as they flee the furious battle for Iraq’s second city.

Together with Safa and their four children, Alaa reached the safety of the Hasansham camp complex last Tuesday.

Around 255,000 people have been displaced from Mosul and surrounding areas since the operation began in October, with over 100,000 since the military campaign in western Mosul began on February 19. The last week has seen the highest level of displacement yet, with 32,000 displaced between March 12 and 15 alone.

As displacement from western Mosul continues unabated, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is opening two new camps and asking donors for additional funding to help protect and shelter those forced to flee. It is also asking donors for US$37 million in additional funding to support those forced to flee.

UNHCR’s new Hasansham U2 camp, east of Mosul, is ready to shelter 3,000 people in coming days, before expanding to 9,000, Meanwhile, Hammam al-Alil 2, 25 kilometres south of Mosul, will be ready to receive 6,600 people on Monday and will have capacity for 30,000 when complete, UNHCR spokesman Babar Baloch told reporters at a news briefing in Geneva on Friday (March 17).

“UNHCR continues to advocate with the Iraqi Security Forces and authorities for newly displaced people from western Mosul to be taken to camps east and north of the city where there is capacity,” Baloch said.  “We anticipate that IDPs will begin to be transported to camps in the north this week.”

Among those reaching Hasansham and safety in recent days was father-of-five Adil and his wife Hiyam, who fled their family home in the Hay Shuhada neighbourhood after it was taken over by extremists preparing to fight advancing government forces.

“We were told to leave our house. They wanted to use it for snipers on the roof,” says Adil, 47, who first took his family to nearby Nablis, where they spend five days before making their escape at night to avoid extremists, finally reaching Hasansham.

“We are so relieved to be in the camp,” Hiyam says. “We’ve no plans to go back right now, our home town may be liberated but it might not be safe yet. My father and brother are still there so we want to go back. We spoke to them four days ago, we hope they are okay,” she adds.

Meanwhile, Alaa, Safa and their two sons – who were dehydrated, vomiting and suffering from diarrhoea when they reached Hasansham – were simply glad to be safe.

“We are happy to be here,” he said. “We have no idea if our house is still standing. We will wait to hear if and when it is safe to go back home.”

 

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