Families fleeing Mosul and surrounding towns are finding critical help along the way from the Iraqi Red Crescent. As fighting in the city continues, people who have been able to escape are starting to reach camps established beyond the reach of hostilities. Many arrive with only the clothes they are wearing.
Thousands more people are expected to arrive in the coming days and weeks as fighting around Mosul intensifies. Humanitarian agencies estimate that the fighting could displace more than one million people. This is on top of the 3.2 million already displaced by the conflict. Throughout the country, some 10 million Iraqis are in need of aid.
Those who have made it to Khazer camp, east of Mosul, tell of walking through the night to reach safety. “We were so worried the children would cry out during the night and we would be discovered,” said a mother. One man explains how he waved his white singlet when he saw Kurdish military forces approaching.
There is a clear sense of relief among the latest arrivals as they collect basic supplies from Red Crescent volunteers before making their way to one of the camp’s 6,000 tents. “We are so lucky to be finally in a safe place,” says Zenaba, as she settles into a tent with her husband and three small children. Other families from her small village are nearby, having made the journey together.
Gyula Kadar, operations manager for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in Erbil, explains that providing shelter and emergency relief for those displaced over the past two years was already a challenge. “Local communities across the country are sharing the responsibility, taking in millions of displaced people. But even with the greatest will in the world they cannot accommodate a million more,” explains Gyula.
To meet this imminent need, the global Red Cross and Red Crescent network has been working alongside other humanitarian agencies to prepare camps in strategic locations outside of Mosul. Essential services including health care, water supplies and sanitation facilities are integrated into these tent cities.
More than 2,500 Iraqi Red Crescent volunteers are ready to provide lifesaving assistance to families in search of safety. Stocks of food and other essential items such as blankets, cooking sets, stoves and jerry cans have been pre-positioned to meet these urgent humanitarian needs.
Rashawan Bayez, who is heading up the Iraqi Red Crescent team in one camp, says these local volunteers are central to the response. “They have been working here since before this crisis started and know these communities well. They are their neighbors, friends and families.”
You can see this passion and understanding in Rashawan as he walks through the camp meeting those who have arrived over the past few days. He already knows them well, addressing many by name, asking how they are, and if they need anything. “Sometimes it is not enough, but we are giving everything we can,” he explains, before heading off to meet some Red Crescent trucks arriving with supplies of food.
For updates from the ground, follow the Red Cross Red Crescent’s Stephen Ryan on Twitter @stiofanoriain.
Stephen Ryan, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org │ Twitter: @stiofanoriain
Hussam Sabri, Iraqi Red Crescent Society
In Washington, DC
Jenelle Eli, American Red Cross