UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is opening two new camps to accommodate families displaced from Mosul and surrounding areas, as the number of Iraqis that have fled the fighting for control of the country’s second city reaches almost 70,000. In the past week, UNHCR opened Al Alam camp near Tikrit, currently hosting 180 Iraqis with further new arrivals expected.
Amalla camp, near Telafar, is set to open next week. The two new camps will take the total number of UNHCR sites receiving those displaced by the Mosul offensive to six. The decision to open the new camps comes as existing sites rapidly reach full capacity. Three UNHCR-run or supported camps are already full, and the agency is warning that it could run out of space to house displaced families unless new sites are found soon.
Among the first arrivals at Al Alam camp was 20-year-old Sediq from Al-Hawija district, who was studying literature at school before extremist groups took control of the area in 2014. “I had ambitions in life, but since [they] took over, my ambitions were destroyed,” he told UNHCR staff. “For two years I didn’t have access to information, I don’t have any idea of what’s going on in terms of my studies and I forgot everything that I learnt in school.”
As well as operating camps, UNHCR is also providing protection monitoring services and emergency household items for displaced families. With night-time temperatures now reaching freezing, the agency has begun distributing extra winter assistance including kerosene stoves, insulated mattresses, quilts and tent insulation kits.
At UNHCR’s Hasansham camp, currently home to 10,860 displaced Iraqis, people said the extra equipment was helping them deal with the plummeting temperatures. After dark, however, most are forced to huddle together inside their tents to fight off the cold. Ali, a young father who fled his home with his family two weeks ago, had just finished installing extra insulation material inside the family’s tent.
“The biggest problem is the cold, because I worry the kids will get sick eventually,” he said. “Soon I am going to have to start keeping them in the tent because it is too cold to be outside, and it will only get worse. I hope we don’t have to stay here too long,” he added. In order to provide assistance to those fleeing Mosul, UNHCR’s has requested funds totalling US$196.2 million. So far, 57 per cent, or US$111.9 million, has been received.
Sitting outside their tent in Hasansham, Fatima and her elderly mother were peeling courgettes in preparation for lunch. “We are very lucky, we managed to escape and now we are safe,” she said.
“We have enough to keep warm. What I worry about is the people left behind. I have friends and family still in [Mosul], and we know nothing about them. But when I think about them I cry, because I fear they have no food, and they probably have no fuel for heating. I don’t even know if they have homes anymore.”
By Nasreddine Touaibia and Bathoul Ahmed