Mosul: "deciding to go home... despite the risks"
As the Iraqi authorities announced the end of the battle in Mosul on Sunday, July 9, Handicap International is worried about the aftermath and the immense trauma that the civilian populations experienced during nine months of intense battle. Since the beginning of the offensive, in October 2016, more than one million people have been displaced. Two weeks ago, forces launched the final assault on the old city, where hundreds of thousands of civilians were still trapped.
"The fighting has been very intense and civilians have faced an extremely risky situation," says Elisa Fourt, Project Manager for Handicap International in Iraq. "There are several reports of thousands of people who have been used as human shields. Hundreds more were shot when they tried to flee the conflict. In cooperation with other humanitarian actors, we try every day to help the wounded who are still arriving in hospitals. And we also intervene with the displaced population in the camps, among whom are a large number of people in need of rehabilitation care. More than 15,000 civilians have been wounded since the start of the offensive (people referred to the hospital) and thousands more were killed in the fighting.”
Malnutrition and trauma
"A number of civilians who have managed to escape the city also suffer from malnutrition and are in a state of extreme fatigue,” Fourt adds. “Our teams work with many people who are in a state of psychosocial distress in the face of what they have experienced in recent months. Some witnessed scenes of torture, crimes and survived in extremely difficult conditions."
Handicap International has deployed field psychologists for the most severe cases of trauma. Of the 800,000 internally displaced Iraqis who remain in the camps, many civilians have lost their homes and are so traumatized that they are not considering returning at this stage.
Increase in returns
In addition to assisting the displaced, the association also intervenes to help civilians who have already made the decision to resettle in Mosul. Since the start of the offensive, more than 200,000 civilians have already returned to their neighborhoods. This trend is likely to increase in the coming weeks come.
"More and more people are deciding to go home,” Fourt notes. “Living conditions in the camps are particularly difficult: it is very hot, there is still no electricity, so there are many displaced people who choose to return, despite the risks. Explosive remnants of war still very present throughout the city. We are raising awareness of the dangers of explosive remnants of war and improvised explosive devices, so that they can identify and protect themselves when they’re back in Mosul and surrounding areas."
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. The organization’s actions are regularly reviewed and adjusted to ensure they 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 and unconventional weapons, conducts non-technical surveys and clears hazardous areas, provides physical and functional rehabilitation, psychosocial and psychological 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.