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Iraq: UNICEF says up to 1.5 million may be affected by Mosul offensive


Iraq

Iraq: UNICEF says up to 1.5 million may be affected by Mosul offensive

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Thousands of people who have fled the Mosul area, as the military offensive to retake the northern Iraqi city gathers pace, have been on the road for days.

In the background is a stark, apocalyptic landscape, with fumes billowing into the air from oil fields set alight by the retreating militants.

The United Nations has said several thousand people have fled areas around Mosul since the military operation began.

Almost 40 families who fled from clashes between ISIL and the Iraqi army on Saturday evening were brought to Iraq’s Kurdish region. They had fled their homes in the town of Hadar, south of Mosul.

Several families have been helped by Kurdish Peshmerga and Iraqi forces. Some of those displaced arrived at an Iraqi army checkpoint in Qayara on Sunday after hunger forced them to leave their villages.

Many men have stayed behind, apparently too scared to move.

Those who left took with them whatever they could carry. Some have been describing the harshness of life under the so-called Islamic State, saying they are afraid for relatives left behind.

Baida Mohammed Khalaf, a mother-of-nine from the village of Jazeera, south of Mosul on the west bank of the Tigris, said there had been no fighting there as ISIL had withdrawn.

“We were dying there. There was no food. Look at her, is this how a child should be?” she said, holding a child in her arms. “My husband told me to go to my parents and they would follow us later. Lots of families are still there. People are dying there. When they (ISIL) left people everywhere started fleeing.”

United Nations agencies are preparing to provide for a potentially huge influx of people, including a high number of children.

“The UN is estimating that between 1.2 to 1.5 million people may be affected by the current situation in Mosul. We as UNICEF estimate that at least 50 percent of these people will be children,” said UNICEF’s Middle East Representative Geert Cappelaere during a visit to the Debaga refugee camp, south of Erbil in Iraq’s Kurdish region.

“These children have been exposed for over two years to probably a lot of atrocities, extreme living conditions and we want to be there for them to provide the psycho-social support, to provide them efforts that give them back a normal life as a child,” he said.

A UNICEF team visited al-Hud, an area recently retaken from ISIL, and brought in supplies including water and immunisations against polio and measles. The UN agency’s Iraq representative Peter Hawkins described conditions for children in the area as “very, very poor”. He added that children in and around Mosul were at risk of death and injury from fighting, as well as sexual violence, kidnapping and recruitment from armed groups.

The UNHCR, the UN’s refugee agency, has reported people fleeing to the east and west of Mosul after airstrikes and shelling. It says more than 5,000 people have been taken to a reception centre in the village of al-Hood in Qayyarah, while another 240 people from east of Mosul had been transferred to Debaga.

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