The US-led coalition against Islamic State in Iraq is preparing for a huge attempt to retake the city of Mosul which has caused refugees to flee from the violence.
According to the charity Save the Children, 5,000 people have crossed the border into Syria within the last 10 days. The number is expected to rise rapidly as the fighting in Mosul, Iraq becomes more intense.
Aram Shakaram, the aid organisation’s Deputy Country Director in Iraq, said: “Unless safe routes to escape the fighting are established, many families will have no choice but to stay and risk being killed by crossfire or bombardment.”
Due to the extreme risk to their lives, refugees are fleeing Mosul and are seeking shelter at the al-Hol camp, which is set up in Syria. The camp has already become overrun and conditions have been described as: “filthy and overcrowded.”
It was originally built to take in 7,500 people, but currently houses around 9,000. With refugee camps being created around Mosul for the expected mass of people leaving the city, the number of refugees will only increase. The United Nations says it expects a: “minimum of 200,000 within the coming days and weeks.”
The Al-Hol refugee camp is gradually being expanded so that its capacity will be closer to 50,000. However, there are currently only 16 latrines and the substantial lack of clean water is also a serious problem. The area is not equipped to take in the eventual flood of refugees and it will take too long to improve conditions.
Tarik Kadir, a representative for Save the Children, expressed his fears about the safety of the camp’s inhabitants saying: ‘The camp is bursting at the seams and risks being overwhelmed.”
The process to take back Mosul from Islamic State (IS) forces is not expected to be a quick one. Iraqi government troops are approaching the city from the South, while their Kurdish allies are moving in from the east.
One Kurdish commander has been quoted by CNN as saying: “It could be two weeks before Iraqi troops breach the city, and another two months before the area is liberated.”
During this period of time the number of people fleeing Mosul will increase. Up to 1.5 million civilians are still in the city, but they are being advised by the Iraqi Government to stay where they are during the operation. They believe IS have ‘booby-trapped’ areas of the city and placed snipers on key routes in and out.
With IS fighters so far resisting the US-led coalition’s attempts to retake Mosul, the UN’s prediction for the ‘biggest man-made crisis in recent times’ is one that seems likely to become fact within the very near future.