Dispatch from Iraq: helping those fleeing Mosul
Nearly a month into the military offensive to retake Mosul, around 50,000 people have fled the city so far. Many are staying in camps, where we are doing all we can to alleviate suffering
Nov 14 2016
When the Action Against Hunger team arrives at the warehouse, it is before 8am. Inside are kits containing essential items, including jerry cans and rubbish bins, which will be distributed to hundreds of families who recently fled Mosul and face hunger without support.
Once loaded, the truck and the couriers rush into the dust and cross the last checkpoint. A metal bridge has been erected to replace the one that used to lead to Mosul: that was destroyed. The blue and white tents of Khazer camp appear from behind a hill. Mechanical shovels are preparing the ground for thousands of families who could soon find refuge there.
A makeshift car park in front of the camp’s entrance houses cars covered with dust. On the other side of the fence, hundreds of people stroll past: some are waiting for food distributions and other basic items being provided by different charities. In the crowd, a woman screams. She is looking for her little boy who must have got lost in the maze of tents.
On both sides of the fence that encircles the camp, people are gathering. Some clasp hands with those on the other side of the barbed wire-topped fence. For some this is the scene of an emotional family reunion, for others it’s simply business. The perimeter of the camp looks like a vast market. Here and there, vendors take the opportunity to sell mobile phones, teapots, soft drinks or sweets. There is no little profit.
We park our vehicles in the distributions area. Today, we’ll distribute 305 kits containing jerry cans, thermos flasks, water filters, bins and bags. We’ve hired a dozen workers who live in the camp and undertake daily work to lend us a hand. There are two desks at the entrance: one for women and the other for men. People have registered the day before and have received a ticket. Now, each signs a registration sheet before taking a kit from Mouthanna, one of the brilliant daily workers supporting us.
A week ago, Mouthanna was still living in the Gogjali neighbourhood, east of Mosul. He’s a resourceful young man, aged around 20. As he hands out kits, he remembers the two years spent under the Islamic State.
“I come from a small village a few kilometres from Mosul,” he says. “When the militants from Daesh arrived, they forced us to join the city. Our life changed suddenly. I had to grow a beard and wear loose clothes. I couldn’t smoke anymore and if I would not go to the mosque I would be locked up for three days and beaten. Now I’m here and I just hope I’ll be able to go home.”
It’s been nearly a month since the beginning of the offensive to retake Mosul. Mouthanna and nearly 50,000 other Iraqis have found refuge in camps established on the outskirts of the city. Action Against Hunger supports those living in two of them, easing the burden of displacement for more than 12,000 people by distributing hygiene kits, rubbish bins, water and providing psychological support.