Over 750,000 civilians stranded in ISIS-held Western Mosul, NGOs voice concern

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Iraqi civilians seen in eastern Mosul after the arrival of the Iraqi security forces. Photo: ARA News/Pierre-Yves Baillet

ARA News

As the battle for Mosul city in northern Iraq has entered its fourth month, humanitarian organizations including the UN expressed deep concern about the plight of estimated 750,000 civilians who are currently living in the ISIS-held western sections of the city.

“We relieve that so many people in the eastern sections of Mosul have been able to stay in their homes. We hope that everything is done to protect the hundreds of thousands of people who still live in western Mosul. We know that they are at extreme risk and we fear for their lives,” said Lise Grande, the Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq.

In the contingency plan prepared prior to the onset of the Mosul campaign last October, humanitarian organizations warned that as many as one million civilians may be impacted by the fighting in a worst case scenario. To date, 180,000 people have fled the eastern sections of the city; more than 550,000 civilians have stayed in their homes.

Humanitarian organizations say they have been working intensively to provide direct life-saving assistance to civilians trapped in the war-torn city. Nearly 600,000 people have received food, 745,000 people have benefitted from water and sanitation support and 370,000 people have sought medical care. Eighty-five per cent of the people displaced from Mosul are staying in 13 displacement camps and emergency sites constructed by the Government and organizations. Ten of these camps are already full, of which four are being extended. Seven more are under construction.

“The reports from inside western Mosul are distressing. Humanitarian organizations are unable to access these areas but all the evidence points to a sharply deteriorating situation. The prices of basic food and supplies are soaring. Water and electricity are intermittent in neighbourhoods and many families without income are eating only once a day. Others are being forced to burn furniture to stay warm,” said Grande.

“We don’t know what will happen in western Mosul but we cannot rule out the possibility of siege-like conditions or a mass exodus. To date, nearly half of all the casualties from Mosul are civilians. It’s terrifying to think of the risks families are facing,” she said. “They can be killed by booby-traps and in cross-fire and could be used as human shields.”

The Iraqi Security Forces have adopted a humanitarian concept of operations putting civilian protection at the centre of their battle plan, and the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has promised to investigate human rights abuses by Iraqi forces

“The world’s attention is fixed on the military campaign in Iraq. But once this is over, there will still be a humanitarian crisis. As many as three million Iraqis, maybe even four million depending on what happens in Mosul, Hawija and Tel Afar may be displaced from their homes as a result of the conflict. These families will need to make crucial choices about how to rebuild and re-establish their lives. And we will need to be here to help them. We hope and trust that the international community will not walk away after Mosul. It would be a mistake — a very big one — if this were to happen,” Grande added.

However, there has also been criticism of the aid response by the UN and other international aid organizations.

Preemptive Love Coalition, one of the few NGOs that operate inside Iraq’s Mosul city, urged aid groups to deliver direct humanitarian assistance not only to civilians that are displaced by the conflict outside of the city, but also to families trapped inside Mosul.

“Before the Mosul campaign began, the UN and other humanitarian players were warning of a looming humanitarian disaster that would likely displace over a million people,” Matthew Willingham, the Senior Field Editor for the Preemptive Love Coalition, told ARA News. “Today, we are months into the campaign and the number of displaced is still far from a million, but we believe needs shouldn’t be measured by displacement alone.”

“Tens of thousands of families—maybe even hundreds of thousands—are choosing to stay in their homes after their towns and villages are freed from ISIS control,” he said.

“So aid groups have to make a choice: will they stay in safer fall-back positions and continue helping people who do leave their homes, or will they also go to the people who aren’t leaving their homes who also need urgent aid? In some cases, families in Mosul are choosing to not leave their homes out of fear of reprisals. In other cases, they aren’t allowed to leave. Regardless, it’s our responsibility to reach them,” Willingham told ARA News.

Reporting by: Wladimir van Wilgenburg | Source: ARA News 

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