Up to 300,000 people may escape from western Mosul in a new wave of displacement, a spokesman for the UN’s refugee agency told RT. He added that danger for civilians is now coming from the air and the ground as Iraqi forces advance through the city.
“The fighting is intensifying in Mosul, and as a result, displacement is intensifying. The latest figures suggest that 260,000 people have been displaced in total, and maybe around 150,000 of those since the second offensive of Mosul on the western side in mid-February,” Matthew Saltmarsh, spokesman for the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) told RT on Monday.
“As the fighting intensifies in the densely-populated western part, obviously there’s a heightened risk for civilians,” he said. “Dangers come from the air. Dangers also come from the ground.”
He urged all sides involved in the hostilities to allow civilians to flee the area, adding that the UN and their partners are ready to provide humanitarian assistance at any time “within camps or outside the camps as well.”
The UN’s refugee agency is capable of taking care of large number of civilians escaping western Mosul, Saltmarsh said, mentioning 13 camps, “either opened or in planning.” The facilities can accommodate around 140,000 people, but he warned there is a huge possibility of a fresh wave of more than 300,000 displaced persons exiting the city.
Despite massive humanitarian efforts, many people, reluctant to leave, opt to stay with relatives or squat in unfurnished buildings, Saltmarsh continued.
“Were that the case, we’re able to take supplies and assistance to them as long as it’s not inside the area which is seeing active fighting right now.”
He described the humanitarian situation in the besieged western part of Mosul as appalling, with civilians being targeted by Islamist snipers and scouts pretending to be the Iraqi Army checkpoints. Those who stay are in no better position, Saltmarsh said, as food and water supplies are scarce and access to healthcare almost non-existent.
The situation in Mosul is “dire,” Maulid Warfa, the chief of the UNICEF field office in Erbil, Iraq, told RT, adding that children are particularly suffering from the war. “I had been personally in… many camps [around Mosul], I have seen the situation of the people that are coming in – and it is very, very difficult,” he said.
Warfa particularly stressed that children in Mosul often go through “a very difficult traumatic experience in a war situation, where children see things they should not have seen,” including “dead bodies… bombings and explosions.”
He also said that some 200,000 children are still trapped in the city, according to the UNICEF estimates. “The children who flee the city were deprived of the opportunity for immunization, for education and decent healthcare,” he told RT, adding, “Many children come out injured.”
Warfa also warned that the humanitarian situation in the area is likely to get worse and many more people have yet to escape western Mosul. The number of civilians coming out of the city every day now already exceeds the expectations of humanitarian organizations, he said.
If the numbers double, “the capacity of the humanitarian agencies may be overwhelmed,” he said.
In the meantime, Mosul residents complain that the US-led coalition is not as precise and careful in conducting its airstrikes as it claims. One resident told RT’s sister video agency, Ruptly, that coalition airplanes “were bombing randomly” instead of hitting specific targets.
There are still some 700,000 people trapped in the densely populated western neighborhoods of the city. Almost 100,000 Iraqis have been displaced by the fighting in the 19 days since February 25, according to the latest estimates of the UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM), and the total number could reach 450,000.
The number of civilians killed in the battle for Mosul so far is difficult to estimate, and it is even harder to attribute fatalities to either IS attacks or US-led coalition airstrikes. The US said that some 200 civilians have been killed in coalition airstrikes, but UK-based monitoring group Airwars says the true number may be more than ten times higher.