By Joe Cropp, IFRC in Erbil, Iraq
Families who have been able to flee Mosul and surrounding towns are starting to reach camps that have been established in beyond the reach of the fighting. Many arrive with only the clothes they are wearing, receiving much needed food and relief supplies from the Iraqi Red Crescent Society and other humanitarian agencies working in the camps.
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 Iraqi Red Crescent Society 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 near Mosul are nearby, having made the journey together.
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.
Gyula Kadar, operations manager for the IFRC in nearby Erbil, explains that provide 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 International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement has been working alongside other humanitarian agencies to prepare camps in strategic location around Mosul. Essential services including health care, water supplies and sanitation facilities are integrated into these tent cities.
Iraqi Red Crescent Society is an integral part of this operation, with more than 2,500 volunteers ready to provide food and relief supplies. Stocks of food and other essential items such as blankets, cooking sets, stoves and jerry cans that the Movement has positioned at key centres around the Mosul.
Rashawan Bayez, who is heading up the Iraqi Red Crescent Society team in the 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 neighbours, 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.