Mosul: “The number of displaced people has doubled in the past week”

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More than 55,000 people have been displaced since the launch of the Mosul offensive in Iraq. Handicap International will start providing assistance to vulnerable people in displacement areas starting next week. 

“The number of displaced people has more than doubled over the last week and the needs of people who have fled the fighting are growing,” says Fanny Mraz, Handicap International’s head of mission in Iraq.

A few days ago, Fanny Mraz and other Handicap International representatives visited camps and host communities, where displaced people have taken refuge. The Jad’ah camp is home to nearly 6,500 people. “We’ve seen a lot of wheelchairs in front of the tents,” says Fanny Mraz. “According to the camp manager, a lot of displaced people suffer from disabilities or injuries.”

“We’re very worried about vulnerable peoples’ health condition, in this area,” Mraz explains. “A cloud of black smoke has been hanging over the camp for over a month now. No one has been able to stop the oil well fires started by the Islamic State group before they withdrew from Qayyarah, a little over a mile away. The area is also difficult to access, and it hasn’t received enough humanitarian assistance until now.”

Fanny Mraz also visited the new camp for displaced people in Hasansham, which is now full with 10,000 people. Nearly 15,000 people have been assigned to the adjacent camp of Khazer, with a potential capacity of up to 36,000 people.

“These camps are already enormous and they’re going to get bigger and bigger,” she says. “Humanitarian actors have been able to cope with the initial influx of displaced people so far, but the numbers of people fleeing have rocketed in the last week and we are now witnessing a lack of services.”

Starting next week, more than ten Handicap International teams will provide assistance in the camps. Physical therapy sessions will be organized for people with disabilities and injuries, along with psychological support sessions. Risk education teams will also be deployed to provide displaced people with information on the risk of mines and improvised explosive devices in the areas surrounding the camps or in their village of origin.

Mosul emergency response

In recent years, the fighting between armed groups and government forces in Iraq has led to the displacement of over 3.3 million people, with an estimated 10 million requiring humanitarian assistance throughout Iraq. The Mosul offensive will constitute an unprecedented challenge for international organizations. As a worst-case scenario, this military operation could result in the largest humanitarian crisis of 2016 and the displacement of one million people, according to the United Nations. Large numbers of families have already started fleeing the area over the last two weeks.

Handicap International and the Iraqi crisis

Handicap International has helped more than 125,000 people since launching its emergency response in 2014. (Handicap International has run other projects in Iraq since 1991.) The organization regularly reviews its actions to account for a highly volatile situation across the entire country. Current activities protect people by raising awareness of the risk from mines and conventional weapons. Teams conduct non-technical studies and clear potentially dangerous areas. Other staff provide physical and functional rehabilitation and psychosocial support, support to health centers, training and advocacy on the inclusion of people with disabilities, and technical support to partners to enhance the inclusion of vulnerable people in their services.