Freezing winter poses new threat to fleeing Mosul civilians

Freezing winter poses new threat to fleeing Mosul civilians
Thousands of people in Mosul risk sniper fire, landmines and executions as they flee Islamic State militants. Now a harsh winter poses a new threat to their lives.
3 min read
28 November, 2016
Freezing temperatures pose a new challenge for Mosul's displaced civilians [Getty]

Making a break for freedom from Islamic State terror comes at a price for Mosul civilians.

As Iraqi forces liberate neighbourhood after neighbourhood, fleeing residents must cross minefields, dodge sniper fire and avoid roadside bombs to reach waiting refugee camps.

But as temperatures plummet in northern Iraq, the freezing conditions inside the tents threaten their survival.

"At night we have to keep our heads under the blanket and curl into a ball to stay warm," Alya Zannun, a 56-year-old woman living in a tent in Khazir camp, southeast of Mosul, told AFP.

"We are dying from the cold, our hands are getting dry and are covered in fungi," she said.

Warda Maraebi, a 71-year-old woman added: "We can't even stretch our fingers because of the cold, how are the children going to handle this?"

Fatima Omar, 38, fled her home in the east of Mosul earlier this month with her six children.

"At night, the tent was shaking, it felt like the wind was going to blow it away," she said. "If the weather gets any worse, the tent will just collapse."

Northern Iraq gets cold weather in the winter and even snowfall in some areas, including the Kurdish region housing many of the country's more than three million displaced.

The UN's refugee agency is racing to prepare camps for the exodus of people leaving Mosul - which now stands at 73,000 since the offensive began last month - however it has warned it is millions of dollars short of the funding it needs.

Distributions of winter kits - comprising six blankets, a heating stove, plastic tarpaulin, kerosene jerry cans, water can and insulation kits for tents - are underway in camps and host communities and will continue until February, UNHCR said earlier this month.

UNHCR is opening two new camps, bringing the total receiving displaced Mosul civilians to six; Al Alam near Tikrit, currently hosting 180 Iraqis with more arrivals expected, and Amalla camp, near Tal Afar, set to open next week.

The agency has requested $196.2 million for its Mosul response. So far, 57 per cent, or $111.9 million, has been received, it said.

Displaced Mosul civilians face a harsh winter ahead [Getty]

Meanwhile refugees who are seeking refuge in Syria are also being helped by the agency.

On Sunday, UNHCR said it had evacuated almost 2,500 refugees - the majority Iraqis - at the Rajm Slebi border crossing point and moved them to Al Hol camp in Syria's Hassakeh Governorate.

Alphonse Munyaneza, UNHCR Field Coordinator for North-East Syria, said: "We are relieved that those up to now seeking safety at Al Hol are now there, after long and dangerous journeys. We of course remain prepared for any further arrivals who may still come, but for now, Rajm Selebi finally looks the way I like it - empty."

Agencies contributed to this report.