Civilians risk getting caught in crossfire as Mosul offensive intensifies

Hundreds of thousands of civilians risk being caught in crossfire as the offensive to retake Mosul and surrounding areas from ISIS intensifies, Oxfam said today.

Families face a terrible choice between staying in ISIS controlled areas where many have reportedly suffered extreme violence and food shortages, or risking explosive devices and bullets to escape the fighting.

Andres Gonzales, Oxfam’s country director in Iraq, said: “The people of Mosul have already suffered enough. Genuinely safe routes must be provided so they can escape the fighting and get to the shelter and help they need. All armed forces should avoid the use of heavy weapons in built-up and populated areas and do everything possible to protect civilians. 

“The Government of Iraq has every right to control its own territory but, along with the other parties to the conflict, it must abide by international humanitarian law and protect civilian areas and infrastructure.”

Fighting in recent weeks has already forced tens of thousands of people from their homes and these numbers could swell to over a million when the battle for Iraq’s second city gets underway. Whilst the Iraqi government has identified 13 locations for camps to receive them, work to install tents and basic services has barely begun. 

“Traumatized families who have fled violence could now face weeks living out in the open or in overcrowded camps. Many will have fled with only the clothes they were wearing and cannot face the harsh Iraqi winter without help,” Gonzales said.

Oxfam is scaling up its existing operation in the area known as the Mosul Corridor to provide those who have fled the fighting with clean drinking water, toilets, blankets and other vital aid. 

Notes to editors

1.    Military operations along the Mosul Corridor have already displaced almost 150,000 people since March 2016. In recent days, fighting in Hawija has forced families to flee to several areas including Dibaga camp where Oxfam is providing clean water. Fighting will intensify soon as the Iraqi government suggested there will be a strong push towards the city of Mosul from the middle of October.

2.    In previous operations, authorities have attempted to establish safe routes for civilians trying to flee conflict areas. However, attacks on civilians, confiscation of documents, checkpoints and explosive devices have made the routes far from safe. It is vital that civilians who wish to escape conflict areas are free to do so safely.

3.    The Iraqi government has identified locations for five sites where men and boys over the age of 13 will be screened to ensure they are not ISIS fighters. Oxfam is concerned the screening process will create bottlenecks and could result in civilians getting caught up in the conflict and having to wait for long periods in the open.

4.    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. 

5.    Oxfam has been working in 50 villages and towns across Diyala and Kirkuk governorates in northern Iraq since 2014. It is providing safe water in camps and host communities, and enabling people to earn a living so that they can support their families. It is now scaling up its response in the Mosul Corridor, operating in Salah Al-Din and Ninewa governorates. Oxfam is working in the key strategic area of Qayyarat, which is sandwiched between ISIS-controlled territories.

6.    The UN appeal for the Mosul response is only 16% funded, with $136.8m out of $283.7m secured (UNOCHA).

7.    View and download photos of Oxfam’s work in northern Iraq: http://wordsandpictures.oxfam.org.uk/pages/search.php?search=%21collection31151&k=ca5435fd41#

Contact information

For more information or interviews contact Mohammed-Ali Abunajela | MAbunajela@oxfam.org.uk | +964 773 408 3120

Attila Kulcsar | attila.kulcsar@oxfaminternational.org | +44 7471 142 974

For updates, please follow @Oxfam