Hitham is 9. He is from Mosul in Northern Iraq. As the Iraqi forces continue their offensive to re-take the city, the frontline reached his home in the western parts of the city. The fighting eventually drove them away.
There are many like Hitham. Since the offensive to re-take Mosul started in October last year, 330,000 people have fled their homes. A quarter of those have already returned to their houses in neighborhoods damaged by war in the eastern parts of the city. Life there is tough. There is a shortage of clean water. Little healthcare. Schools are yet to open. But is it home.
For Hitham and 180,000 others displaced from the western parts of Mosul, going home is not an option. Fighting continues. As more than eight thousand others that early day in March, he arrived at one of the camps set up to accommodate the growing numbers of people escaping war. The path is muddy. They have fled for hours or days, after weeks of fighting and little to eat, after years under ISIS rule.
Most of them do not want to give us their name, or for us to take photos of them, still worried about family and friends still left in the city – they still fear what ISIS soldiers could do to them. While they left belongings and their homes, they carried the heavy burden of fear with them.
“ISIS took my husband one year ago. I have not heard from him since. I fled in the night with my four young children,” a young woman just arriving told us.
“We left our village Abu Saif in West Mosul because of the airstrikes. It is not safe there. We fled with my whole family to the camp here in Hammam al Alil," an elderly man said.
“We walked for 5 hours to reach the Iraqi Army. They helped us reach this camp. We are worried about our family and neighbors still under the bombs,” a younger man said.
They left horrors of war and ventured out on a dangerous escape. “One man told me that they had put duct tape covering their sheep’s snout not to make any noise fleeing in the night. Children would take off their shoes to make their steps quiet,” said Melany Markham, Norwegian Refugee Council's (NRC) media coordinator in Iraq.
As thousands of people flee Mosul every day, NRC and other agencies are assisting them in displacement camps, including in Hammam Al Alil south of Mosul, with the most basic supplies to meet their most immediate needs, as food, water, a soap, a towel. People arrive hungry, exhausted and frightened.
The Iraqi Government and aid agencies will continue to prepare for thousands of new arrivals over the following weeks and months. Up to 400,000 people are still trapped in West Mosul, including in the densly populated old parts of the city.
“People are arriving in the camp with only the clothes that they are standing in. They are cold, exhausted and hungry – crying from either exhaustion or trauma or both. NRC and other aid agencies are meeting their needs for now but we fear what will happen as the wave continues and even increases,” NRC Country Director in Iraq, Wolfgang Gressmann, said.
So far, NRC has supported more than 210 000 people fleeing Mosul, since the offensive to retake the city started on the October 17 last year. NRC is engaged in providing water, food, shelter, legal assistance and education. 1 in 10 Iraqis, 3 million people, are currently displaced in the country.