(Vatican Radio) The UN charity, UNICEF, says nearly 26,000 people have been displaced since the military operation to liberate the Iraqi city of Mosul from the control of the so-called Islamic State began in mid-October. It said a further 5,200 arrived in two camps to the south of the city on Friday in the single largest displacement since the offensive began. Altogether there are more than 10,000 displaced children in urgent need of assistance. Peter Hawkins is the country representative in Iraq for UNICEF and spoke to Susy Hodges about their plight.
Hawkins said it’s not just the displaced people who urgently require aid but also those who have decided to remain in their newly liberated villages and UNICEF is stepping up its relief programme to provide clean drinking water, hygiene kits, immunization and other essentials to both groups.
Many of the new arrivals come to the camps with only the clothes on their backs and some are even barefoot despite the approach of winter.
“A lot of the children have been through excessive trauma,” said Hawkins, saying you can see it in their behaviour and “in their drawings.” The UNICEF representative said some of the girls had been sexually abused and there were plans for them to receive psychological counselling.
Fears of being “overwhelmed”
Asked whether UNICEF fears a potential humanitarian catastrophe, given the size of the population in Mosul, and if huge numbers fled the city all at once, Hawkins said “absolutely” this was a fear. He said as long as people leave Mosul in smaller groups of up to about 10,000 then they would be “able to cope” but if a massive exodus of say 150,000 people were to flee all at once, “we will be overwhelmed,” he warned.