As hundreds of thousands of families flee ISIS-controlled western Mosul, where fighting is still underway, and attempt to reach safety in East Mosul, UNICEF is scrambling to provide aid and set up emergency camps.
Nearly one million civilians are displaced, according to UNICEF, and approximately half are children.
“The challenges in this scenario are unprecedented. We don’t often have up to one million people potentially on the move; it’s very rare in scale and size,” said UNICEF Regional Emergency Advisor Bastien Vigneau.
This week marks six months since U.S.-backed Iraqi forces launched a wide-scale military operation to retake the city from ISIS.
Children living in Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, spoke to UNICEF in a series of documentary short films about how their lives have changed since the city became an ISIS stronghold.
“ISIS ruined our future,” Ammar, 12, said in one of the UNICEF films. Ammar talks about witnessing bodies hung by ISIS from streetlights in Mosul on multiple occasions.
Since ISIS took over the schools in Mosul, Ammar says, they have replaced the curriculum. “They wanted us to train for jihad.” The ISIS teachers promised money and cars to students who joined, he says.
In another film in the UNICEF series, a student from Mosul, Mahmod, talks about ISIS teachers who infiltrated his school and gave students wooden knives. The students were instructed, Mahmod says, on how to behead and kill. “Everyone was afraid of them,” he said.
For families who are currently displaced and seeking safety, the hope is that they are able to make it to emergency camps. It’s unclear how many civilians will leave Mosul and when, which makes the situation “very fluid” and “unpredictable,” according to Vigneau.
In the emergency camps, UNICEF will bring safe water, install prefabricated toilets, set up immunization centers and informal learning spaces, and provide psychological help for children, as well as protection programs on explosives awareness and gender-based violence.
“We know we cannot prepare as much as we’d like for this because the situation is going to change all the time; it’s difficult to predict how the people of Mosul will be affected during the military operation,” Vigneau said.