(Vatican Radio) Iraqi special forces have moved more than 1,000 people from villages near the front lines of the battle to retake the Islamic State-held city of Mosul and surrounding areas, where the U.N. says militants have committed a number of atrocities in recent days.
During his Angelus address on Sunday, Pope Francis expressed his closeness and solidarity with those affected by the fighting and called for prayers.
Meanwhile, humanitarian aid agencies in Iraq, including CAFOD and Catholic Relief Services have been working to assist those affected by the fighting. Hani El-Mahdi, CRS Director for Iraq, spoke with Vatican Radio’s Christopher Wells about relief efforts in the country:
Catholic Relief Services started their work in Northern Iraq in the summer of 2014, as a response to ISIS invading Mosul. Since then, they have worked with sister agencies such as CAFOD and Caritas Iraq and have been able to serve more than 150,000 internationally displaced people as a result of the current conflicts going on in Iraq.
In recent days, the Iraqi government and Kurdish forces have launched an offensive against ISIS militants in the country, and it has had an effect on the work being done by CRS:
“We have been preparing for it for some time by basically testing volunteers and staff in order to be ready to receive a huge number of internally displaced people, from Mosul in particular,” El-Mahdi continues, “On the top of all the assistance we have been doing so far we have to keep up in order to respond to this anticipated new wave of displacement.”
The displaced people of Iraq often lack necessities and CRS does their best to provide aid and winterization items:
“Usually people will need immediate assistance in the beginning and that’s what we have been providing so far, including shelter, water, and sanitation. Also, household items, kitchen materials, blankets,” said Eh-Mahdi.
El-Mahdi warns that, “The coming winter in Iraq can be brutal for those IDPs so winterization items and cash assistance are needed.” He also stresses that children are in need of education.
While there are many people being displaced from Mosul, there are other areas in need of humanitarian aid and he mentions the cities of Kirkuk, Amarah, and Fallujah:
“There are thousands of IDPs stranded in those areas, wanting immediate assistance. On top of that, more than 3 million IDPs in the country still need assistance, particularly during the coming weather.”
So, he concludes, we continue to deal with multiple challenges across the nation which are rendered even more urgent and critical by the upcoming winter months.