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Fleeing Mosul: 'I might not see my sisters again'

Kareem and his family have taken refuge from Mosul in Syria [Save The Children]

Date of publication: 20 February, 2017

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Shocking testimony from one refugee family who fled Mosul for the safety of Syria tells of horrific conditions for those trapped inside the IS-held Iraqi city.

Kareem arrived in Al Hol camp in northeast Syria last week after fleeing a village north of Mosul, travelling through minefields with his five children, including an eight-month-old baby.

His three sisters and uncle remain trapped in western Mosul.

Breaking down in tears as he recounted recent telephone conversations with his relatives, Kareem said his family's food stores were almost depleted and a group of his relatives had been killed by IS when they tried to escape the city.

Here, he tells his story:

"I have three sisters who live with their husbands and children in the western part of the city of Mosul, which is an [Islamic State group]-controlled area.

"I last spoke to them ten days ago on the phone to inform them that I was leaving with my family to Syria. They were crying because they knew the way to get out of north Mosul was filled with mines and they were afraid we would die.

"My sisters are living in extreme conditions.

 
[Click to enlarge]

"There is nothing available there, no bread, no water, no food. They all have young children who are a similar age to my children.

"I have heard many things from my sisters. They are surviving off food they have kept in their stores, but they only have supplies for a maximum of one month and they are afraid they will starve to death after this if the area remains besieged and under IS control for much longer.

"There are people worse off than them, they told me that in another area there are people who are surviving off eating the meat of cats.

"My uncle also lives in the west side of the city. He told me on the phone that people have started begging out of desperation. People come knocking on the doors begging for even a morsel of food. He says if the area stays under IS control much longer they are worried that the same thing that happened in the besieged area of Madaya (in Syria) will happen to them.

There is no medical treatment available at all... If someone gets sick they die

"People will start dying of starvation. They have no doctors and no food. There is no flour, no bulgur wheat, no rice, no milk, there is nothing to eat. There is some food in the market but people have no money to buy anything. They have some food stored in their houses which is enough to last one month.

"There is no medical treatment available at all. It's a besieged area. If someone gets sick they die. There's nothing to keep them warm except blankets. No supplies have been in or out of the area since four months ago.

"Nothing has been in or out. My uncle used to leave and come back for work before, but he hasn't been able to go for four months. The area is completely surrounded and there is no way out for them. The road has been cut off and if anyone tries to leave they are killed.

"Right now I think my sisters are fine but I honestly don't know if I'll ever see them again. Ten days ago five artillery shells fell close to one of their houses. They were okay, but terrified. I really don't know if I'll ever see my sisters again because I heard that airstrikes are going to start on the area soon, and so they could get hit and die.

Twenty days ago a group of my relatives tried to leave the western part of the city... They were caught by IS and killed on the spot

"They are hoping that the army will enter as soon as possible and IS will have to leave the area.

"Twenty days ago a group of my relatives tried to leave the western part of the city. My uncle told me they were trying to reach Qayyara, an area held by the Iraqi army. They were caught by IS and killed on the spot.

"Twenty people including women and children. IS fighters ambushed them in the night and killed them immediately.

"Before the siege started, if anyone tried to leave they would pay a fine to IS and they would be made to go back to their homes. But once the siege started an order was issued that if anyone tried to leave they'd be killed immediately. I don't know anyone else who has tried to leave because since this order was issued they were too scared to leave. They will kill anyone, even women and children.

"It is difficult to reach my family members because mobile phones are forbidden there. Even if you are caught with a SIM card, they will punish you. There is no network and you have to go to high locations to speak on the phone. Last time I spoke to one of my sisters they were on the roof of their building. But there are drones that monitor the networks and they are afraid to speak. Talking with them is illegal. It's a terrible situation."

Kareem was speaking to Save The Children, whose Iraq country director, Maurizio Crivallero, added:

"What we're hearing from inside western Mosul right now is deeply concerning. Even when there is food available at the markets, people don't have any money left to buy it. Families and their children are on the brink of starvation.

"This is a siege by any other name, and a brutal one. If civilians try to flee they risk almost certain death at the hands of [IS] fighters. If they stay, then they could be killed by bombs and crossfire. Iraqi forces and their coalition allies, including the US and UK, must make sure to protect children as they advance and to secure access for urgently needed humanitarian aid as soon as possible."

Some 5,000 refugees from the areas around Mosul have arrived at the Syrian camp in the last two months, according to Save the Children. The charity has built latrines and water tanks, and is providing psychological support to children.

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