Hope as families escape ISIS in Iraq

October 31 2016. Jad’ah camp, Qayyarrah (80km south of Mosul) in Iraq. Fayona (11), Fawz (10), Wajeeh (4) arrived in Jad-ah camp 3 days ago with their family. They came with 100 families from a village south of Mosul. IS had tried to take the villagers’ north further into their territory – it’s thought with the intention of using them as human shields, according to the UN. As the villagers were taken north, conflict erupted between Iraqi and IS forces and the villagers managed to escape. Initially all 100 families were sheltered by their tribal leaders in his house but received news that IS were coming to kill them so fled to Jad’ah camp. Nearly 1,000 families – around 5-6,000 people – have arrived in Jad’ah camp in the past few days, most of them fleeing fighting around Shura, south of Mosul. Save the Children is putting up temporary learning spaces to get up to 800 primary age children learning again. Fayona (11), Fawz (10), Wajeeh (4) and their family are one of nearly 1,000 families that received water from Save the Children’s distribution on 31 October.
Fayona, 11, Fawz, 10, Wajeeh, four, arrived in Jad’ah camp, Qayyarrah with the families.

As we give out water and supplies in a dusty warehouse north of Tikrit to a group of people who have escaped life under the Islamic State (ISIS), an unexpectedly joyful scene plays out.

Families reunited after two years

These children, women and men have walked for days – in many cases through minefields – to escape life under ISIS. Now, for the first time in two years or more, there are reunited with their loved ones.

I see two young boys hug and then run off to play, hand-in-hand. A man embraces his wife for the first time in 26 months. His children and extended family huddle around him, chatting and crying.

“Living hell” under ISIS

Islamic State shattered this man’s leg with a bat because he was 30 seconds late to mosque. Now, he walks with a limp.

He tells me that he was “living in hell”.

People tell me about something called the “execution letter”. If you attempt to escape once, ISIS makes you sign a contract agreeing that, if you try again, you will be executed.

Risking it all

To escape ISIS, families have put all their life savings – and their lives – into the hands of smugglers. Many walked across mountains at night, where they risked treading on landmines or capture by armed groups.

The stares, ragged clothing and chapped lips of children as they arrive here testify what they have been through since leaving.

We take a man, who has been blinded by shrapnel on his journey here, by the hand and lead him into the screening site.

 3/11/16 - Camp south of Mosul, Iraq Children play outside the tents in Iraq. Nearly 1,000 families have fled to Jad'ah from ISIS-controlled areas in the past few days, due to heavy fighting as part of the Mosul offensive. Many children in ISIS-held areas have been out of school for up to two years, as parents choose to keep their children at home rather than expose them to the heavily militarised ISIS-run curriculum. Save the Children teams put up a tented temporary learning space in Jadah camp, south of Mosul. The new learning tents will help get 1200 children learning again.
Children play by tents in Jad’ah camp in Qayyarah

Layla’s story

Layla has just arrived in the town of Qayyarah, 80km south of Mosul, where we work and hand out emergency supplies.

She tells us about her escape. After her husband refused to join ISIS, fighters took their belongings and burned them all in punishment. Then they took her husband.

Layla and her eight children fled with nothing but their clothes, and some bribe money to secure their safe passage through the minefields.

We give her water and supplies. But she says: “The only help I need is an education for my children. We have nothing, but this is my biggest worry.”

Education is what we are going to provide for Layla’s children – and as many others as possible.

What we’re doing

We’re opening mobile education tents in Qayyarah, like the ones we already run in Tikrit. We’ll also provide food, water and shelter for people fleeing ISIS.

We know from our work in countless conflicts that a safe space for learning can transform a child.

It provides a routine, helping them get back on track and recover from the trauma of war.

We will help the hundreds of families who have already fled areas around the city of Mosul.

And if the hundreds of thousands of people expected to flee Mosul arrive, we’ll be here to help them too.

Donate now to help bring aid and education to children in Iraq.

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Names have been changed to protect identities.

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