As Iraqi and coalition forces close in on Mosul, the lives of more than half a million children now hang in the balance.
Aram Shakaram, Save the Children’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, trapped beyond the reach of humanitarian aid with little food or medical care. Those that try to flee will be forced to navigate a city ringed with booby traps, snipers and hidden landmines. Without immediate action to ensure people can flee safely, we are likely to see bloodshed of civilians on a massive scale.”
Military commanders have asked vulnerable families and children to stay inside and put white flags on their homes. At best this is impractical in a brutal urban conflict. At worst, it risks civilian buildings being turned into military positions and families being used as human shields. This is unacceptable.
Families inside Mosul say they cannot afford to buy food, water and basic medical supplies, and have been preparing shelters inside their homes in case of bombardment. Many say they are too scared to leave the city until the roads out are secured.
Save the Children is calling for safe routes out of the city to be immediately identified and maintained, and cleared of deadly explosives.
“Vast sums of money have been spent on military planning, equipment and ordinance — but an investment in the safety of children must be the priority,” said Shakaram.
If people do manage to escape, they also face an uncertain situation. At the moment camps are ready for only around 60,000 people – a tiny fraction of the up to one million people who could flee Mosul. The UN’s emergency appeal is still only half funded, but camps could be overwhelmed within days.
Save the Children teams are already seeing people making dangerous journeys to get out ahead of the offensive. Thousands of families are escaping the area around Hawija and at least 5,000 people have fled villages around Mosul and crossed into northeast Syria in the past week, and are living in desperate conditions across the border. Save the Children is providing emergency water supplies, dried food, soap and other items to newly displaced families.