On the third day of the offensive to retake Mosul from Daesh, residents of surrounding villages began arriving at a reception centre set up to receive the first people fleeing territory until now held by the terrorist group.
Over 600 people arrived at the camp in the early morning hours on Wednesday, some having walked as much as eight hours in total darkness from Hawija and Gayyara, on the outskirts of Mosul. Crammed into already at-capacity facilities, they join approximately 30,000 residents of the sprawling camp in Degaba, set up in October 2015 to house those displaced from nearly a third of Iraq's territory overtaken by Daesh. Unable to return home, they now live like refugees in their own country.
A long lunch line winds through the camp, leading to aid workers who shovel cooked rice and bean soup into plastic plates held by hungry hands. Aside from security guards and a handful of assistants, there are few hands available to tend to the needs of the new arrivals, who left with little more than the clothes on their back. They are mostly left to fend for themselves to find a place of their own to settle in the camp.
The United Nations estimates it has the capacity to receive 45–60,000 people fleeing villages in close proximity to Mosul, but has not yet seen a massive outflux of people. Only 7,500 tent shelters are available, and most are already occupied, the manager of Degaba camp, Ahmad Abdu, told TRT World. As many as one million people are expected to be displaced by continued fighting.
After arriving in the camp, the new arrivals await a screening process by security officials to determine whether they may be a threat. Camp managers offered few details about what the process entails, but a number of the camp's residents told TRT World that their male relatives were being detained in Erbil on suspicion of being members of Daesh.
In Sheikh Amir, a small village near Bartella, on the road between Mosul and Erbil, residents were told that although the area had been cleared of fighters by Kurdish Peshmerga forces, they could not return to their homes until the area had been checked and cleared of any hidden explosives that Daesh fighters may have left behind.
Some of the camp's residents boarded overcorwded buses headed for another camp near Kirkuk, closer to the areas they came from. Now, a long process begins to return home. Some have been waiting in the camp for weeks, waiting for news that their towns have been cleared by Iraqi forces. Though life in the camp is squalid and uncomfortable, its denizens began to enjoy few long-awaited pleasures. Women changed out of their black headscarves into colorful new dresses being sold alongside water and cigarettes.
Shabaan, a tall man wearing a suit, stands in front of a cooler full of water bottles and soda. He has been in the camp for six months, and has set up a small stand on the road entering the camp. His family sits in the shade behind him. "I'm a business man, so I've got to do whatever I can to feed them," he says. His daughter, Leila, is five years old. When asked about life in Mosul, she answers "it was nice." Whispering, her father explains, "thank God she is too little to understand what is happening."
Author: Shawn Carrié