Hundreds of thousands of civilians risk being caught in crossfire during the offensive to retake Mosul, Iraq and the surrounding areas from ISIS.
Families face a terrible choice between staying in ISIS-controlled areas where many have reportedly suffered extreme violence and food shortages, or risk explosive devices and bullets to escape the fighting. More than 10 million people—half of them children—are in need of humanitarian assistance in Iraq, and 3.4 million people have been displaced by conflict.
Fighting in recent weeks has forced tens of thousands more from their homes and these numbers could swell to over a million when the battle for Iraq’s second city gets underway, but the resources to respond to this escalating crisis aren’t there—the humanitarian response in Iraq is severely underfunded. According to OCHA, the UN appeal for the Mosul response is only 48% funded, with $136.8 million out of $283.7 million secured.
Andres Gonzales, Oxfam’s country director in Iraq, said: “The Government of Iraq has every right to control its own territory but, along with the other parties to the conflict, it must abide by international humanitarian law and protect civilian areas and infrastructure. The people of Mosul have already suffered enough. Genuinely safe routes must be provided so they can escape the fighting and get to the shelter and help they need.”
In previous operations, authorities have attempted to establish safe routes for civilians trying to flee conflict areas. However, attacks on civilians, confiscation of documents, checkpoints and explosive devices have made the routes far from safe. It is vital that civilians who wish to escape conflict areas are free to do so safely.
Many of those civilians who are able to flee will not find a safe place to weather this dangerous time. The Iraqi government’s planned sites to screen men and boys and 13 camps for the displaced have not been built and lack the most basic facilities.
“Traumatized families who have fled violence could now face weeks living out in the open or in overcrowded camps. Many will have fled with only the clothes they were wearing and cannot face the harsh Iraqi winter without help,” Gonzales said.
Oxfam is scaling up its existing operation in the area known as the Mosul Corridor to provide those who have fled the fighting with clean drinking water, toilets, blankets and other vital aid. Oxfam is also working in the key strategic area of Qayyarat, which is 50 miles south of Mosul and sandwiched between ISIS-controlled territories. We are providing clean water and sanitation and essential items like blankets and hygiene kits. During the Mosul attack, we are expecting to help 60,000 people.
This is in addition to our ongoing programs—Oxfam has been working in 50 villages and towns across Diyala and Kirkuk governorates in northern Iraq since 2014. We are providing safe water in camps and in communities where people who have fled the fighting are sheltering, and enabling people to earn a living so that they can support their families. We have also been helping families as they return home once it is safe to do so.
We also have to think long term. Once the fighting is over, people will need support to return home and rebuild their lives. It is likely to take years to repair the damage to infrastructure and rebuild communities in northern Iraq to ensure the area does not slip back into violence again.
Millions of refugees—many of them children—are seeking security in the Middle East and beyond. Oxfam is helping people get the essential supplies they need and working to provide clean water and sanitation to protect public health.