A one-year-old human shield

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Less than a month ago, one-year-old Ali lived in Mosul, with his brother, sister, and parents. “One day, as we were all sitting at home, armed men came,” Ali’s aunt, Kitba explains. “They gathered us along with some of our neighbors and took us to a school where we were used as human shields. The bombings soon started and Ali’s parents died instantly. His older brother died too. He was only 9 years old.” 

Ali’s grandparents, uncle, and aunt survived the bombings and fled, carrying Ali and his sister in their arms. “As we were running toward an army-controlled area, bombings kept getting stronger. It was as if it would never stop. My dad was so scared that he had a stroke. We were brought to a field hospital and then transferred here, to Qayyarah.” 

At Qayyarah hospital located south of Mosul, the heat is stifling. Mosquito nets have been installed over each patient’s bed, to protect them from the hundreds of flies flying under the ceiling. A dozen beds are aligned one by the other, and our staff hear a baby crying toward the back.  

Through one of the mosquito nets, we could see the silhouette of a young woman, Kitba, holding little Ali in her arms. Kitba tells Khaled, a Handicap International physical therapist that Ali is feeling feverish and seems to be in pain. “But he’s strong and he’ll recover,” she says while looking tenderly at her nephew. 

While Kitba talks with our team, Ali plays with an apple and an orange, given by the hospital staff for lunch. Big scars are still visible on his face and he has trouble moving with the big cast on his leg. “He still has shrapnel in his body and his leg was broken in the bombing,” Kitba continues. Khaled gives advice on how to ease and speed up Ali’s recovery. He explains that as soon as the doctors remove his cast, Handicap International will provide Ali with physical therapy. “Physical therapy is essential for a full recovery,” he explains. 

Kitba listens carefully to what Khaled and other Handicap International staff tell her. It seems that she already sees Ali as her own son. “When we leave the hospital, my nephew will come with us,” she says with tears in her eyes. “His future is in God’s hands, but my only wish is for him to be happy, just like for my own son. When he’s old enough to understand, I will tell him what happened to his parents. I want everybody to know their story.” 

Mosul emergency: Fighting between armed groups and government forces in Iraq in recent years has displaced more than three million people. An estimated 11 million civilians already need humanitarian assistance in the country. The Mosul offensive has presented international organizations with an unprecedented challenge. More than 485,000 people have fled the city since last October.

Handicap International and the Iraqi crisis: More than 200,000 people have benefited from Handicap International’s actions since the launch of its emergency operations in Iraq in 2014. Our actions are regularly reviewed to take into account a highly volatile situation across the whole of Iraqi territory. Handicap International currently organizes population protection activities, raises awareness of the risk from mines and conventional weapons, conducts non-technical surveys and clears potentially hazardous areas, provides physical and functional rehabilitation and psychosocial support, supports health centers, organizes training and advocacy, and provides technical support to partners to enhance the inclusion of vulnerable people (people with disabilities, casualties, older people, and others) within their services.