More than 10,000 flee as battle for Mosul advances

A man stands amidst relief kits being distributed by IOM for people displaced from Mosul, Iraq. (Credit: International Organisation for Migration / IOM Iraq/DfID/flickr)

More than 10,000 people fled western Mosul in the past week as Iraqi military forces continue their effort to recapture the city from the Islamic State, according to the International Organization for Migration. More are trying to leave. Another 6,000 people are waiting to pass through checkpoints to leave and as many as 4,000 are internally displaced.

The estimated 750,000 people remaining in western Mosul face a “desperate” humanitarian situation, according to the latest U.N. situation report. An assault that started in November with the backing of the U.S. cut off supply routes to the city. The fighting makes it hard for people to move about. Both problems lead to poor access to clean drinking water, food and medical assistance.

“The stories of the survivors are heart-breaking,” said Thomas Lothar Weiss, Iraq chief of mission for the International Organization for Migration (IOM). “Our IOM teams and other humanitarian partners on the ground witness every day the unspeakable tragedy that has befallen the people from Mosul. We are very worried about the fate of the tens of thousands of families still trapped inside of West Mosul.”

Destinations of people fleeing western Mosul. (UNOCHA)

Conditions are deteriorating within the city, according to IOM. It is estimated that 250,000 people will flee western Mosul as a result of the fighting. Residents are reportedly cooking root vegetables and utilizing alternative fuels for heating and cooking due to skyrocketing prices. Drinking water shortages are a major concern in eastern Mosul and pressure is building on other parts of the city.

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This week’s surge of people fleeing may be a preview of the near future. Officials from the U.N. agency and other organizations said people displaced from their homes are in need of immediate support from treating dehydration to shelter.

The campaign to retake Mosul has successful recaptured major parts of the city and displaced more than 200,000 people in the process. People are risking their lives to escape. Islamic State militants kill people as punishment for trying to run. Some families are taping shut the mouths of their children to avoid Islamic State detection, the IOM reported.

“All sides must do everything in their power to protect civilians who stay in Mosul, just as they must ensure safe passage for those who leave the city,” Katharina Ritz, head the International Committee of the Red Cross’s delegation in Iraq, said in a statement. “They must also do their utmost to minimize the damage to civilian homes as well as to infrastructure essential for their survival and, given the extensive damage they cause, avoid the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.”

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Humanitarian groups are working with the Iraqi government to set up and manage displacement camps. The Qayara air strip site run by IOM hosts more than 25,000 people and expects to fill its 60,000 person capacity. Groups are stocking up to prepare for people coming. The U.N. partners stocked up 41,700 tents, 49,000 kits of basic household items and 77,000 emergency shelter kits.

In total, supplies are available to support 600,000 people. The 2017 funding appeal for Iraq has yet to be released. More than 80 percent of the $860.5 million request for 2016 was funded. However, funding levels are uncertain with leading donor nations threatening to cut aid budgets.

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About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.