Fairfield, Conn. (July 20, 2016) — Children and their families are taking huge risks to flee areas held by militant groups in Iraq ahead of an expected military offensive, Save the Children is warning.
More than 30,000 people have fled the cities of Mosul and Hawija in the last few months, often on foot and under fire, with hundreds of thousands more expected to leave as the situation escalates. Leaders meeting at the Iraq Pledging Conference in the US today must urgently agree funding to ensure that children who have escaped after living under extremist rule for more than two years can be properly looked after. Conditions in camps where children have sought refuge are rapidly deteriorating, with severe overcrowding and families sleeping in the open without clean water.
Save the Children is working with families who have recently made it out from Mosul and the surrounding areas. Abed, the father of two boys aged six and four, said: "On the journey we had to pass through the mountain which was closer to ISIS. The children were crying and screaming and we had to try to make them quiet. One sound at the wrong time could have been fatal."
US Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry, delegations from Canada, Germany, Japan and the Netherlands and major donors will meet in Washington DC today at the Iraq Pledging Conference. Funding for vital humanitarian and development work in response to Iraq’s multiple crises has been woefully short so far this year.
Maurizio Crivellaro, Save the Children’s Country Director in Iraq, said: "Any military offensive against ISIS-held areas must include provision of safe passage for civilians and proper planning for the aid response. The system is already overwhelmed with the existing humanitarian fallout from Fallujah and displaced families are living in intolerable conditions in the sweltering summer heat."
"Delegates at today’s critical meeting must urgently prioritise funding for protection and humanitarian response, so that children seeking sanctuary can have their basic needs for food, shelter, education and healthcare met."
There have been several incidents reported in the last few months, including fleeing children being killed by Improvised Explosive Devices on the roadside and of families starving to death as they take roundabout routes to reach safety. In Fallujah, civilians escaping the siege were caught in the crossfire or drowned trying to get across the Euphrates river.
Ahmed*, aged 12, left Mosul with his dad and younger brother last month: "We had to leave other relatives who weren’t strong enough. We walked for nine hours towards the outskirts of the city in a roundabout way, hiding from ISIS. Sometimes we could hear gunfire and the sounds of fighting. We were all very afraid, hiding and then running when we thought the men were distracted."