As Iraqi forces push ahead with a new offensive to retake western Mosul, 350,000 children are trapped inside the city.
Families in Mosul face a brutal choice: attempt to flee, and risk being killed by ISIS fighters. Stay, and face bombs, crossfire and dire food shortages.
Escaping through minefields
Kareem* and his family fled their village north of Mosul a week ago. His five children are all aged under ten – the youngest, Randa*, is just eight months old. They had to escape through minefields.
They’re now living at a camp in Syria, where 5,000 people have arrived in the last two months. We’re providing psychosocial support for children in the camp, and we’ve built water tanks and latrines.
But while Kareem and his children have escaped Iraq, his relatives are still trapped in Mosul. Kareem broke down in tears as he told our staff about the conditions they face.
Life under ISIS in Mosul
“I have three sisters who live with their husbands and children in the western part of the city of Mosul, an ISIS controlled area. I last spoke to them ten days ago.
“My sisters are living in extreme conditions. There is nothing available there, no bread, no water, no food. They all have young children who are a similar age to my children.
“They are surviving off food they have kept in their stores. They are afraid they will starve to death if the area remains besieged and under ISIS control for much longer.
“There are people worse off than them – they told me that in another area there are people who are surviving off eating the meat of cats.”
Fears of starvation
“My uncle also lives in the west side of the city. He told me on the phone that people have started begging out of desperation.
“People come knocking on the doors begging for even a morsel of food.
“He says if the area stays under ISIS control much longer they are worried that the same thing that happened in the besieged area of Madaya (in Syria) will happen to them.
“People will start dying of starvation.”
‘If someone gets sick, they die’
“There is no medical treatment available at all. It’s a besieged area. If someone gets sick, they die.
“There’s nothing to keep them warm except blankets. No supplies have been in or out of the area since four months ago. Nothing has been in or out.
“The area is completely surrounded and there is no way out for them. The road has been cut off and if anyone tries to leave they are killed.”
Airstrikes and terror
“Right now I think my sisters are fine but I honestly don’t know if I’ll ever see them again.
“Ten days ago, five artillery shells fell close to one of their houses. They were OK, but terrified.
“I heard that airstrikes are going to start on the area soon and so they could get hit and die.
“They are hoping that the army will enter as soon as possible and ISIS will have to leave the area.”
‘Killed on the spot’
“Twenty days ago, a group of my relatives tried to leave the western part of the city. My uncle told me they were trying to reach an area held by the Iraqi army.
“They were caught by ISIS and killed on the spot.
“Twenty people including women and children. ISIS fighters ambushed them in the night and killed them immediately.
“Before the siege started, if anyone tried to leave they would pay a fine to ISIS and they would be made to go back to their homes.
“But once the siege started an order was issued that if anyone tried to leave they’d be killed immediately. They will kill anyone, even women and children.
Afraid to speak
“It is difficult to reach my family members because mobile phones are forbidden there. Even if you are caught with a SIM card they will punish you.
“There is no network and you have to go to high locations to speak on the phone.
“Last time I spoke to one of my sisters they were on the roof of their building. But there are drones that monitor the networks and they are afraid to speak. Talking with them is illegal.
“It’s a terrible situation.”
What we’re calling for
We’re urging Iraqi forces and their coalition allies, including the US and UK, to ensure children, schools and hospitals are protected as forces advance.
Safe escape routes must be established for civilians, and humanitarian aid must be allowed in as soon as possible.
Our emergency teams are on the ground in Iraq and Syria right now.
We’re helping families who have fled Mosul with food, water and essential supplies. And we’re supporting children who have been separated from their loved ones.
Interested? Read more:
- Iraq in photos: children flee fighting
- Hope as families escape ISIS in Iraq
- Islamic State recruiting children as young as 12
*Names have been changed to protect identities.