The International Organisation of Migration (IOM), the United Nations Migration Agency, released data from its Displacement Tracking Matrix estimating some 839,118 individuals (139,853 families) remain displaced in the aftermath of heavy fighting to retake the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.
According to reports and scenes witnessed by IOM staff working in the zone this month, thousands of people remain buried under the rubble, their untold stories interred amongst the broken bricks and stones of what was once a bustling city of over 1.4 million, whose history dates back to at least 401 BC.
Three survivors who spoke to IOM this week from their hospital beds gave testimony to the carnage they had witnessed. All three lost family members.
“ISIL lobbed a mortar on our house. My father was trying to escape with my sisters and younger brother, while mother and I were still behind…Smoke engulfed the house. I could not see anything. Mama was dead lying on the floor. I thought she was alive…”
“I kept on calling out for my mother, shouting for her to help me, but she never answered me. I too had fallen to the ground, my legs were injured. I could not move.”
“I stayed for three days alone in the house calling for my mother, calling to my father, but no one came. I had no food or water… all three days and nights I was alone shouting to anyone, but no one heard me. Mama… I kept on calling, but no answer… I didn’t know she was dead until they rescued me.”
“Three days alone in the house, day and night hearing the bombs outside falling from the skies … all I wanted was for someone to come and get me… It was three days until the army reached our house.”
Niqaa (45-year-old mother)
“I wish I had died with them,” she said unable to mention family members’ names as her sister, from East Mosul, stood by her side listening in tears. It was 19:15 and Niqaa was in the kitchen preparing dinner for her family with what little ingredients she still had.
Her youngest son was standing close by chatting away to her. Telling her how he couldn’t wait for the army to arrive so he would be able to leave and go to East Mosul. “‘I will buy you water there’, ‘I will buy candies and chocolates for me’,” her son was telling her excitedly.
“So I gave him some money to keep him happy.” “‘Mama, I can’t wait for the army to arrive to go out and shout to them that we are civilians, we are a family and I’ll wave the white flag’,” she recounted him telling her, in a gush of excitement at the news that the Iraqi army was nearby and freedom from ISIL reign close.
At that moment, the house rocked as a bomb hit it. “The house collapsed above us. They were all killed. My entire family killed in a split second. My husband and six children gone,” she sobbed. “No one could bury them, there was too much bombing around.
Some civilians in the area dragged me outside to a safe place. They tied my bleeding foot and took me to a safer place. It was five days before the military entered our neighbourhood and rescued us.” At a field hospital in Hammam al-Alil, a surgeon tried desperately to save her foot. It had to be amputated.
“My children and husband are all dead… they are all dead, there is not one of them left alive,” she sobbed.
She lay in the ward, her father standing by her side. Both still were trying to make sense of what they had just gone through, and what they had lost.
With her mother, a sister and her two children, and three other families with children, they had been trapped inside a house, with ISIL, which was using them as human shields. The Iraqi army was closing in on the old city with the last few blocks remaining to be taken.
As the women and children huddled indoors, a female ISIL foreign jihadist walked in. She was holding the detonator of the suicide vest she wore. “’You are all infidels waiting for the infidel army to come and save you,” the ISIL fighter shouted at the terrified women and children before detonating her vest amongst them.
The room collapsed, and Sarah suddenly found herself under the rubble. She felt someone pull her towards a crack in the rubble, where she could breathe. For hours Sarah, with grave injuries to both legs, had lay buried.
“At first I could hear the voices of women shouting from under the rubble… I could hear children crying…” she recalled. “At first there were survivors. I could hear the children crying at first, the adults calling out… Then their voices slowly faded one by one as they suffocated and died,” she said.
She was the only one pulled out alive.
The United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID) supports the IOM field hospital. The hospital continues to provide life-saving assistance to both victims of war and patients.
Since opening in April 2017, IOM surgeons have performed 476 trauma operations (vascular, general, orthopaedic procedures) and 22 non-trauma emergency cases. The hospital has also treated more than 6,200 outpatient and post-operation follow-up cases.
IOM Iraq Chief of Mission Thomas Lothar Weiss said, “Harrowing tales from civilians who were caught in West Mosul and the suffering they endured are a reminder that more humanitarian assistance is vital if we are to help them on the route to recovery.
Thanks to DFID and our health partners, IOM’s field hospital is able to continue to provide life-saving medical care to the vulnerable.”