Two years after capture of Mosul, displaced Iraqis struggle
Around half-a-million people fled when militants stormed Iraq's second city in June 2014. Many were displaced multiple times, and most face economic hardship.
BASRA, Iraq, June 10 (UNHCR) – Iraqi mother-of-six Ahlam Tariq Ali once enjoyed what she calls a “luxurious life” in Iraq’s second city of Mosul. But that ended when militants stormed the city two years ago.
As fierce street fighting closed in on her neighourhood near a military base in the northern city, she fled on foot with her daughter, Zeinab, a lawyer, clutching only vital documents.
Leaving two of her sons behind as she and Zeinab ran for their lives, she first sought safety in Erbil, in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, before reaching Basra, the birthplace of her late husband, in the south of her country.
“ISIL has torn our lives apart,” says Ali. She and her family are among around half-a-million people driven from their homes when the militants captured Mosul on June 10, 2014, after a week of heavy fighting.
Two years on and residents are still fleeing the city and its surroundings as Iraqi Security Forces fight to retake Mosul. Since the offensive began in late March, more than 14,000 people have been registered in camps north and south of the city, and across the border in Syria.
A recent UNHCR survey found that those who fled Mosul – like Ali and her daughter – are about three times as likely as other families to consider moving to another location within Iraq. While the reasons are not clear, they are also around four times as likely to consider leaving the country.
Unemployment is the greatest problem facing families uprooted from their homes and scattered across Iraq, a country where more than 3.3 million people – or around 10 per cent of the population – have been displaced due to conflict since the start of 2014.
Among Mosul residents struggling to get by in exile is father-of-four Mohammed Khudur. A 27-year-old former day labourer, who now lives in a displacement camp outside the Iraqi capital, Baghdad.
“Life is not so easy here,” Khudur says. “We have to get water delivered by tankers. But the hardest thing is that I am finding it tough to provide the most basic things for my children because I am sick and cannot work.”
Many continue to feel the loss of their home acutely. Khudur’s s wife, Tswahen, says that she most misses “our house, the land and a society which understands us.”
The psychological toll of flight is also high. Ali was eventually reunited with her two sons, one of whom was tortured and has since sought refuge in Sweden. Her daughter, Zeinab, meanwhile, continues to suffer nightmares two years after their flight.
Other issues faced by displaced residents include a lack of access to education. School-aged children, aged six to 17, from Mosul district are about 30 per cent less likely to have access to education compared to displaced children from elsewhere. Children from the Mosul area are about twice as likely to experience child marriage than other displaced youngsters.
The Iraqi Government and allied forces are currently battling to retake Falluja, in what some see as a prelude in coming months to an assault on Mosul, the militants’ last major bastion in Iraq.
The overwhelming majority of those who responded to a survey by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, said they were not currently planning to go home. Some, though, spoke wistfully of a hope to return – provided there is adequate security on the ground.
“Do I want to go back? It’s like we say: ‘My son is sick, and I hope he’s healing well,’ ” said Kudhur. “I’m waiting for my son to get healed. I will stay here until it is safe to return.”
Video by Dalal Mawad and Houssam Hariri.
You can read more on the plight of those fleeing Mosul here.