Fears for 750,000 people trapped in western Mosul as battle draws near

Published: 14th February 2017

An estimated 750,000 people are trapped in western Mosul without any safe means of escape from the latest military offensive that could start any day, Oxfam warned today. Humanitarian conditions in the west of the city are deteriorating after supply routes were cut off in November when the east of the city was recaptured.

Oxfam is deeply concerned for the safety of families trapped in western Mosul, and particularly the Old City where the narrow, densely-populated streets could become a death trap. The international agency is calling on the Iraqi-led coalition to continue to uphold the Prime Minister’s commitment to prioritise the protection of civilians in the military operations. 

Despite this commitment, around 2,000 civilians were killed or injured in the first three months of the offensive to recapture Mosul. Over 190,000 people fled their homes, although around 30,000 have now returned.

Andres Gonzalez, Oxfam’s Country Director in Iraq, said: “This next phase of fighting carries the highest stakes yet for civilians. The idea that families could be trapped amid heavy fighting - particularly in the narrow streets of the Old City - without any safe means of escape is a terrifying prospect.

“Oxfam is calling on all armed forces to avoid the use of heavy weapons in populated and built up areas, including mortars and artillery, and to provide genuinely safe escape routes to avoid the high number of civilian casualties seen so far.”

Accounts by civilians from eastern Mosul suggest that families were targeted by ISIS and caught up in the fighting - including airstrikes - to retake the east of the city. With all of the bridges between east and west Mosul damaged or destroyed and ISIS still in control of territory to the west of the city, there is a risk that many more civilians will be killed or injured.  

Oxfam is positioning aid supplies to help respond to a possible further influx of up to 250,000 people when this latest, second phase of the military offensive begins. Blankets, heaters, hygiene kits and other vital supplies have been distributed to villages south of Mosul where more people are likely to flee. Oxfam also plans to support trauma centers in the area. 

Notes to editors

The Government of Iraq estimates that 750,000 people are still living in western Mosul and that up to 250,000 could be driven from their homes when fighting begins. These are assumptions to aid humanitarian planning. More than 190,000 people have fled fighting in Mosul and surrounding areas since 17 October 2016, according to the International Organization for Migration, but some 30,000 people have returned home.

Oxfam has been supporting people who have fled ISIS and the military operations since 2014. We are working in camps and communities across northern Iraq, including areas that have been recaptured from ISIS in the last few weeks. We are providing clean water, blankets and other vital aid to families living in Hassansham camp and supporting health centers in and around Mosul. Oxfam is also working with communities around Mosul to rehabilitate water plants. 

The UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq, Lise Grande, said last month that 47 percent of all casualties sustained in the military operation since 17 October have been civilians. The UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports that over 1,675 wounded civilians were sent to Erbil’s main hospitals to receive trauma care and at least 312 civilians were treated at a surgical hospital in Bartallah between 17 October 2016 and 25 January 2017. Reports on the numbers of civilians treated in hospitals and trauma centres do not reflect the total number of civilians killed and injured.

Contact information

For more information or to arrange an interview with an Oxfam spokesperson, please contact:

Amy Christian | achristian@oxfam.org.uk | +964 751 224 8917.