Images: L. Arango for Action Against Hunger, 2017
Voices from Iraqi Kurdistan
As the siege of Mosul continues, the stories of ordinary Iraqi men, women and children underline the cost of the conflict.
Apr 25 2017
The Iraqi refugee crisis is the second largest in the Middle East which, alongside the Syrian refugee crisis, has created a major humanitarian crisis across the region.
The fall-out of ongoing conflict in the region, as exemplified by the plight of refugees and those close to the fighting, threatens thousands of innocent men, women and children with exposure to disease, inadequate access to clean water, and grave food insecurity. The stories of individuals, their hopes, their dreams, their frustrations, their fighting spirit and their loss, in many aspects, are a microcosm of the cost of Iraq's conflict and toll it has taken on the average man, woman and child.
Mahmood Alkhafajee's Story
During the Iraqi Security Forces’ military operations against ISIS last January, the unique health centre in Telkaif, a city eight kilometres north of the city of Mosul, came under bombardment and was badly damaged. Action Against Hunger has been supporting the centre since February to rehabilitate water points to provide clean water. Dr Mahmood Alkhafajee, 42, is a doctor at the health centre in Telkaif.
"I have been a doctor here for more than 15 years, but when the city was under ISIS control over the last two years it was nearly empty. Everybody was afraid to leave their homes. Five women and two men were stoned to death right in front of the health centre. It was a hard time. In January, when the battle started in Telkaif, the health centre was hit during the night. The next morning there was broken glass everywhere. One shell had come through the roof and another had landed in the backyard. The building is still being repaired and Action Against Hunger has helped clean the hospital up and will soon repair the windows. During the winter it has been extremely cold, unbearably cold. We could not work in these conditions without windows. We couldn´t even examine patients properly because of the cold. There is no electricity and all our medical supplies have been damaged.
For me it is terrible to watch patients get worse because of lack of resources and medicine. But despite the horror, despite the difficult times, I have never had the intention to leave Telkaif. People need doctors and it is my duty to stay with them. I hope that one day I will see a prosperous country where my friends from all religions and cultures live together in harmony. Some say that Iraq has no future, that Iraqis will know no other future than war. I am a dreamer. I am confident we will get through these difficult times together."
Hadi, 12, is from the village of Bawiza, four kilometres north of Mosul. She fled to a camp with her family in 2015 and came back home after Iraqi Security Forces retook the village from ISIS last December. By this time the village had completely changed with the scars of war visible everywhere. Bawiza’s population were scratching out a primitive existence, deprived of electricity, running water and other essential city services. The humanitarian situation remains critical and mental health needs among communities remain critical. Action Against Hunger’s social workers and psychologists are helping families cope with the trauma they have experienced by providing urgent psychological support.
“I was very sad when we had to leave our house. but during all this time in the camp I had the hope to come back. When we returned, Bawiza was a ghost village. Many of my friends were still displaced, the school was closed, the shop of my father was destroyed and we had no money left. The relationship between my parents changed: they were arguing every day. I started to isolate myself. I would stay all day long in my room. I didn´t want to talk, to eat, to do anything. Two of my brothers started to wet the bed, something which they hadn’t done before.
Despite this, the situation is improving little by little. The school has reopened, my father is repairing the walls of the shop and my brothers and I have joined the group therapy sessions run by Action Against Hunger. We draw and play to feel better and share our feelings and fear. When I get anxious now, I breath deeply and pray. I have found my own mechanism to feel better. From now on life can only get better."
Sheila, 30, is a mother of two from the eastern side of Mosul. The Tigris River hugs the frontline in the ongoing conflict between ISIS and Iraqi Security Forces. Despite claims that the eastern part of the city has been declared as liberated in late January, people living in the proximity of the river continue to experience shelling on an almost daily basis. Sheila fled to Al-Falah neighborhood and has been receiving food, kerosene and other basic items distributed by Action Against Hunger.
“I was in the kitchen and my husband in the yard when the shelling started. I had heard shelling before, but never at such close proximity. An artillery shell hit very close by and my husband was very badly wounded. I called for an ambulance, but they said it was too dangerous. We waited two hours and eventually they arrived but it was too late for my husband. He had died before they could reach him.
At that time, I was in the last month of pregnancy and I fled with my four-year-old daughter to a relatives house in Al Falah. I gave birth in the hospital, but I am afraid of going back to Mosul. Where would I go? There is still shelling going on. My biggest struggle is money. If I had some money, I would flee far away from here. When my daughter hears an explosion, she can tell exactly what type of artillery it is. Is that normal for a kid? She hasn’t found out that her father has died as I am not strong enough to tell her. I just want everything to be fair. But here, in the city of Mosul, you cannot find fairness.”
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