IOM Iraq Sees Surge of Internally Displaced from Mosul as Fighting Intensifies
Iraq - Since the February 19 start of Iraqi forces’ efforts to retake Mosul’s western sector, IOM reports over 10,000 men, women and children now have been displaced in the zone, according to Iraq’s Ministry of Migration and Displacement (MoMD).
Along with the 3,000-4,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) already arrived at emergency locations established by an array of humanitarian agencies, the MoMD reports at least another 6,000 individuals were waiting on Monday evening at two separate checkpoints, hoping to find shelter during the night.
IOM reported some 1,650 people arrived today at the Hamam al-Aleel facility, and nearly 2,800 arrived at Qayara air strip on Sunday night. Both these locations are in Nineweh governorate southeast of Mosul.
The MoMD estimates another 3,000 individuals are already moving towards the checkpoints and are expected to arrive tomorrow.
These numbers, among the largest in weeks, are just a fraction of the 250,000 or more people who could yet be displaced from West Mosul as fighting escalates to retake the city, according to IOM Iraq press officer Hala Jaber.
“There is serious concern for the 750,000 trapped in the densely populated western sector, with conditions worsening daily, according to reports and testimonies from those who have managed to escape,” she said.
IOM’s Jaber recounted the ordeal of 10-day-old Hajir and the infant’s five siblings, who fled Mosul after losing a father and two uncles when a shell believed to have been fired by ISIL forces landed on their house. “This occurred just hours before arriving at IOM’s emergency IDP site late last night,” Jaber explained.
Hajir and her siblings were among nearly 400 families (2,400 individuals) who were forced to escape the Hay al-Maamoun district yesterday, as ISIL and the military engaged in ferocious fighting before the army re-took the district.
She added that the tiny baby’s mother was critically injured and, in the chaos of their escape, the family lost track of her, later hearing that she was evacuated by Iraqi soldiers to a hospital. They later learned that she had sustained a serious neck injury caused by shrapnel.
By late Monday afternoon, they still did not know whether she had survived or died from her wounds. Hajir’s grandfather was out looking for her in hospitals near the emergency site. Hours after arriving by bus at IOM’s Qayara emergency site, the family still had no word on her fate.
But that was not the end of Hajir’s ordeal. She had not been breast-fed for hours. She was hungry, weak, dirty – in short, in an extremely fragile state. “She will die if she is not taken care of, please help us to get her milk,” a relative pleaded with an emergency site resident, Khalaf, who was working as a day labourer at Qayara.
Khalaf took the baby to his tent, woke his wife, Hanan, and explained the emergency. Since escaping ISIL in November and arriving at the IOM emergency site in December, Hanan had given birth to their own baby, Fatima, an hour after arriving at the emergency site. Fatima was the first child born in the emergency site.
But Hanan could not nurse Hajir, because the stress of escaping Mosul had dried up her breast milk. However, the couple did manage to find Hajir milk formula, a change of clothes and disposable diapers. “She is like our own Fatima,” Hanan said with a smile, as she fed Hajir from a bottle.
Many who arrived at IOM’s Qayara air-strip yesterday, including children, spoke of seeing dead bodies on the streets as they escaped. Many corpses, they said, were ISIL fighters; others civilians killed by Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) laid by militants.
Homes, shops and warehouses of those who escaped are confiscated by ISIL. ISIL is apparently also raiding the homes of the well-off, who have stockpiled food supplies, and confiscating their stocks.
Leaflets have also been dropped on some of the captured areas on the east side, warning people that unless they leave they will be regarded as ‘enemies’.
The Government of Iraq has decided, initially, to transport people displaced from western Mosul to camps in the east, while new capacity is being added in the south.
What is threatening to become a humanitarian crisis for the civilians of West Mosul has IOM, UN and other humanitarian agencies working round the clock to expand the camps and secure stocks in the warehouses to meet the needs of the displaced.
IOM’s Qayara air strip site, where IOM now has a four-person team handing out essential non-food aid items to displaced families arriving at night, is currently providing shelter for 4,472 displaced families (25,344 individuals), with a planned capacity to hold 10,000 families (60,000 individuals).
Haj Ali emergency site is currently hosting 1,565 displaced families (6,994 individuals), with a planned capacity for 7,000 (40,000 individuals).
A total of 37,330 families (223,980 individuals) have been displaced from Mosul Corridor since the military operations started on October 17, 2016. Of these 29,426 families or 176,556 individuals remain displaced. The majority are from Mosul district.
Iraqi forces seized a damaged Mosul bridge on Monday which could link up their units on either side of the Tigris river, allowing for thousands of civilians to escape the fighting engulfing ISIL’s remaining strongholds.
Testimonies from the newly displaced spoke of worsening conditions in West Mosul, ranging from food, fuel, medicine and water shortages, rocketing prices, and ISIL threats against civilians even contemplating escaping.
Um Mahmoud, 50, who escaped, arrived at IOM’s Qayara site on Sunday night. She said that those inside Mosul are having to improvise to find fuel for heat and cooking.
Food for those who cannot afford the rocketing prices is nearly unobtainable. A bottle of cooking oil now costs 18,000 Iraqi Dinar (more than ten times its normal price). Flour now costs IQD 120,000 per 50 kilos – a 1,000 percent mark-up. A kilo of sugar is IQD 20,000. Um Mahmoud said people are now using sweet vanilla essence used in sweets as a sugar substitute.
Mosul residents have also been cooking a root vegetable that is generally pickled. “We cook it as we would potatoes by boiling it, even though it’s tasteless. But at least it’s filling,” Um Mahmoud explained.
Um Mahmoud displayed hands blackened by petroleum residue and said everyone’s voices have become hoarse from the unhealthy smoke enveloping the town. “We stayed out of fear of ISIL. People escaping were caught – their men killed and women left tied out in the cold as punishment,” she said.
Escapees have described how cars are chosen randomly to be used as booby traps against the approaching troops. The car bomb detonations are then followed by suicide bombers.
Escapees also report militants have forced residents to remove front gates from their homes, in order to facilitate their movement in and out of houses, and to make their escape when the Iraqi army approaches.
Families escaping with children are reportedly taping their mouths with duct tape to ensure they don’t cry or make a sound that would alert ISIL. Other families are giving their children sleeping pills or Valium to keep them quiet during their escape.
IOM Iraq Chief of Mission Thomas Lothar Weiss noted: "The stories of the survivors are heart-breaking. 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. In partnership with the Iraqi government, we are working around the clock to help and appeal for continued generosity and support from the international community."
The DTM Emergency Tracking figures on displacement from Mosul operations are available at: http://iraqdtm.iom.int/EmergencyTracking.aspx .
The latest full DTM report and data set on displacement and returns across Iraq are available on the DTM website: http://iraqdtm.iom.int
DTM Mosul Operations Snapshot (Feb. 28):
DTM Mosul Corridor Displacement Analysis (Feb 27):