Iraq

Mosul: returning home to rubble

Muhammed Hassan Yunis, 41, from Mosul in northern Iraq, has been living with his family in the Hamam al-Alil camp for the last three years. Two years after Mosul city was recaptured from Islamic State group, he and thousands of former residents are still unable to return home.

Muhammed has six children. The eldest child suffers from heart disease and the youngest has autism. Both children need special treatment and a suitable environment to live in. Muhammed has tried to return home many times but has no home to return to.

In the camp for displaced people, which lies about 30km south of Mosul city, only essential daily needs such as food and water are met. Electricity is limited, tents have no heating in winter and no air conditioning in summer, and only basic medical care is available.

“The living conditions in the camp are tough, and it’s very difficult for children with special needs,” explains Muhammed. “Two of my children are sick. I cannot afford to buy medicine for them or provide them with a comfortable environment outside these tents.”

Photo: Alan Ayoubi /NRC
Read caption Muhammed has six children. The eldest child suffers from heart disease and the youngest has autism. Both children need special treatment and a suitable environment to live in. “The living conditions in the camp are tough, and it’s very difficult for children with special needs,” he explains. Photo: Alan Ayoubi/NRC

Tents the only homes they can afford

Living in tents can be very cold and muddy in winter, yet extremely hot and dry in summer, especially with only a few hours of electricity each day. The aid that families in camps receive is decreasing day by day. Nowadays, it is not enough for a big family like Muhammed’s.

“Despite the difficulties we face living in camps, tents are the only homes we have,” Muhammed explains. He lost his house and everything he had during the conflict with Islamic State group. Today his house is badly damaged, just like many other houses in his neighbourhood and in other areas around Mosul.

It has been two years since the end of the military operation to retake the city of Mosul from Islamic State group. Yet, more than 300,000 of its former residents are still displaced with no home to return to. The majority of displaced families have run out of savings and are in debt, surviving on humanitarian aid.

Muhammed visits Mosul city from time to time to find work as a “lumper”, loading and unloading cargo. He works on a day-to-day basis to earn money and buy food for his family in the camp. He wishes to return to his home neighbourhood but cannot afford to do so anytime soon.

For now, life in the camp is a better option for Muhammed and many other families. Living in tents is free of charge, and they receive aid from NGOs, keeping them alive. But there is little feeling of long-term stability or security. Muhammed sums it up: “In the camp we are just living our daily life, not knowing what might happen in the future.”

Muhammed in Hamam al-Alil camp

Muhammed Hassan Yunis, 41 years old from Mosul, has been living with his family in Hamam Al-Alil Camp in Mosul for three years. He has six children, the elder child suffers from heart disease and the youngest one has Autism. Both child need special treatment. 

The condition in the camp is not suitable for children who need special treatment. In the camps you can only find the very basic daily needs from food and water, limited electricity with no heater or air conditioner, only basic medical treatments. 

Muhammed wishes to go back to his home in Mosul city. He misses his house, his job, his neighborhood. He dreams of a stable life with his family in Mosul again.

Muhammed is not able to go back to Mosul, because his house is destroyed, he lost everything he owns, his financial status does not allow him to rent a new house, and he can not even find a job to start over and rebuild his life.

Photo: Helen Baker/NRC

Mosul
Read caption For now, life in the camp is the best option for Muhammed and many other families. But there is little feeling of long-term stability or security. Muhammed sums it up: “In the camp we are just living our daily life, not knowing what might happen in the future.” Photo: Helen Baker/NRC

“We had a normal and stable life”

Before IS group took control of Mosul, Muhammed was working as a casual employee. His income was enough to pay for the house he was renting and provide his family with their daily needs.

“I was living with my family peacefully in our cosy house,” he recalls. “My children were going to school, playing with their friends in the neighbourhood. We simply had a normal and stable life, just like how most people live.”

During the period of IS group control, Muhammed’s father-in-law was killed. Muhammed moved out of his rented house to stay in his father-in-law’s house. He explains: “IS group members were taking over the empty houses, so my family and I moved to my in-laws house to protect it.”

Muhammed, his wife and six children stayed there for a few months, then the house got damaged in the fighting. The family were inside the house when it was bombed. They left everything behind and fled to the Hamam al-Alil camp.

Photo: Helen Baker
Read caption Muhammed surveys the ruins of his former home. He cannot afford to rebuild the house or rent another place in the city. “We know that in terms of security the situation in Mosul is much better, and security is not our main concern,” he explains. “I cannot return home because I do not have a home anymore.” Photo: Helen Baker/NRC

Muhammed has tried to return home, but does not have an income that enables him to rent a house in the city or rebuild the damaged house he was living in. He is also unable to pay for services such as electricity and water.

There are no job opportunities for residents and no support from the government to help them rebuild their lives. “We know that in terms of security the situation in Mosul is much better, and security is not our main concern,” explains Muhammed. “I cannot return home because I do not have a home anymore.”

More support needed to help people return home

Those who have managed to return to Mosul mostly live in damaged or destroyed buildings. On the west side of the city especially, many buildings are damaged and little reconstruction is happening. Residents are clearing rubble and rebuilding themselves with very little means, and despite the presence of hundreds of unexploded bombs.

“We lost everything we had,” says Muhammed. “Without support it will be very difficult for us to rebuild our lives. We ask the government, the international community and humanitarian organisations to help the people of Mosul.”

The absence of political will and the lack of resources allocated by the government threaten to make the reconstruction process extremely lengthy. The 2019 state budget has allocated USD 560 million for Mosul’s reconstruction but the UN estimates the cost of one year of rebuilding work to be more than three times that figure, at USD 1.8 billion.

In the last two years, through its shelter program, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) has repaired and rebuilt houses for more than 5,200 people in Mosul. Yet, as a great part of west Mosul is completely destroyed, more collective action is needed to rebuild the city.