Angelina Jolie visits West Mosul, where Iraqi families are returning home to ruins
The UNHCR Special Envoy met with families who survived years of terror and displacement. Although the world seems to have forgotten them, they are determined to rebuild.
UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie today visited West Mosul, an urban area held captive by ISIS for three years until its liberation last summer. After walking among the bombed-out buildings that line its quiet streets and meeting with some of the first families to return, she urged the world not to forget the agonies they have endured – and not to ignore the new struggles they now face.
This is the worst devastation I have seen in all my years with UNHCR
“This is the worst devastation I have seen in all my years with UNHCR,” said Jolie, speaking in front of the ruins of al-Nuri Mosque in the Old City. “These people have lost everything, and the trauma and the loss that they have suffered is unparalleled.”
The Special Envoy marvelled at their ability to carry on, despite the world’s seeming indifference.
“I have no words for the strength it must take to rebuild after loss like this,” she said. “But that is what the people of this city are doing. They are grief-stricken and traumatized, but they are also hopeful. They are clearing their homes with their own hands, and volunteering and helping each other. But they need our assistance.”
One local family showed Jolie the damage to their ancestral home, built a century ago. Mohamed, 47, spoke of how he was born and married there, and how a mortar tore through the roof one morning last June, gravely injuring his 17-year-old daughter. When they carried her to get medical care, he said, they were turned away and she bled to death.
“Zubayda was very sociable and energetic, very simple and generous,” he said, tears gathering in his eyes. “If she had only one bite to eat – and food was very limited then – she would give it to her siblings.”
For the time being, nearby friends have taken in Mohamed, his wife Hoda and their three surviving children. But the space is too crowded to stay there much longer.
“I want to rebuild the house and come back here,” Mohamed said. “Even if I have painful memories in this house, where else would I go? I have to come back home.”
Throughout Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, some 40,000 homes are in need of rehabilitation. UNHCR and its partner, Human Appeal, have begun to provide cash assistance to returning families so they can repair or rebuild their homes. The initiative aims to reach 1,500 families this year.
Without such assistance, the families returning here risk sliding deeper into poverty. Overwhelmed by the lack of shelter, infrastructure, services and jobs, thousands are being displaced again and seeking shelter in camps outside the city.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was established on 14 December 1950 by the United Nations General Assembly. The agency is mandated to lead and coordinate international action to protect refugees and resolve refugee issues. It strives to ensure that everyone has the right to seek asylum and find safe refuge in another state, with the option to voluntarily return home when conditions are conducive for return, integrate locally or resettle to a third country. UNHCR has twice won the Nobel Peace Prize, in 1954 for its ground-breaking work in helping the refugees of Europe, and in 1981 for its worldwide assistance to refugees.