Caught in crossfire: Iraqi families face a terrible choice

 A dust storm in Al Tinah camp, Iraq. In mid-September, Oxfam and local partners distributed water and sanitation materials to displaced families living in this small camp of 200 tents and to hosting communities. Photo: Amy Christian/Oxfam
A dust storm in Al Tinah camp, Iraq. In mid-September, Oxfam and local partners distributed water and sanitation materials to displaced families living in this small camp of 200 tents and to hosting communities. Photo: Amy Christian/Oxfam

In Iraq, hundreds of thousands of civilians risk being caught in the crossfire as the offensive to retake Mosul and surrounding areas from ISIS intensifies. Families face a terrible choice between staying in ISIS-controlled areas, where many have suffered violence and food shortages, or risk their lives to escape the fighting. 

According to the UN, 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.

As the situation is worsening and winter is nearly there, we are scaling up our response in the country to provide people fleeing the fighting in Mosul with clean water, toilets, and other vital aid. Our goal is to reach 60,000 people with emergency aid by March 2017.

Mokhtar (village head) Nisr Amr, 35, sits with his son in the ruins of his father's house in the village of Imam Gharbi, south of Mosul, Iraq, on October 13, 2016.The Mokhtar (village head) of the village of Imam Gharbi, south of Mosul, Nisr Amr, 35, sits with his son in the ruins of his father's house on October 13, 2016. 

When ISIS occupied the village of Imam Gharbi in 2014, they destroyed NisrAmr's house and killed his father, a police officer.. The Coalition military forces re-took the village in August. 

We are distributing emergency supplies including blankets and hygiene items to families from the area that are still displaced. Since 2014, we have been working in 50 villages and towns across the Diyala and Kirkuk governates helping to support families who have fled ISIS and the military operations against it.

Jasm*, 2, plays on a trike in a camp for displaced people in the village of Tinah some 70km south of Mosul, Iraq, on October 14, 2016.Jasm*, 2, plays on a trike in a camp for displaced people in the village of Tinah, some 70km south of Mosul, Iraq, on October 14, 2016.

Jasm's family also lived in the village of Imam Gharbi. When the army re-took the village in August, their house was destroyed by shelling. The the family fled the fighting and are now living a few kilometers away in the camp in the village of Tinah.

5 million children are in need of humanitarian assistance in Iraq. Oxfam is distributing essential aid to families sheltering here and assisting them when they decide to return home.

Usra*, 45, sits in the tent in which she and her husband are staying in a camp for displaced people in the village of Tinah some 70km south of Mosul, Iraq, on October 14, 2016.Usra*, 45, lives with her husband in the camp for displaced people in the village of Tinah, about 70km south of Mosul, Iraq. She's hoping to move home soon. 

When the army re-took the village of Imam Gharbi in August, Usra* escaped to a nearby town with her family, including her grandchildren. After 20 days they were made to walk to the small village of Tinah, along with thousands of other villagers. The journey took them seven hours.

When they arrived in Tinah there were no provisions for their arrival and it was days before they were even able to find clean water to drink.

Because facilities in the camps are poor, it’s estimated that as many as 90 percent of families on the move are choosing to flee to host communities. Unpredictable patterns of movement are making it challenging for aid groups to help meet their needs.
 

Water and sanitation services are among people’s most urgent needs there.Water and sanitation services are among people’s most urgent needs.

In mid-September, Oxfam and its local partner were able to make a quick distribution of jerry cans, wash basins, and blankets for more than 250 households in a small camp of 200 tents in Tinah.  We will continue with assessments in the Mosul corridor focusing on Water and Sanitation, Food Security and Protection. 

Oxfam Public Health Officer Yusra Badawi talks to newly arrived families in Golat camp in Debaga, Iraq.Oxfam Public Health Officer Yusra Badawi talks to newly arrived families in Golat camp in Debaga, now home to 558 people from Sinjar district in Ninewah province. The families living in the camp were caught between two lines of fighting for nearly ten months after fleeing their village which was occupied by ISIS. 

As Basma Yaseen Khader, 45, who now lives in the camp with her relatives, describes: 
"Now we are here we are thankful to be safe but there is so much that we need. We only managed to bring the clothes we were wearing and we don't have enough food; we eat just half a piece of bread each per day. We are hungry.

"There are toilets here in this camp but the women's toilets are right next to the men’s and we are embarrassed to use them. We go to the toilet in groups or sometimes we use a bucket in our tents and throw it out. We need some help."

*Testimonies names have been changed to preserve their identity.

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