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Impending Mosul assault puts 600,000 children in line of fire

Thursday, 6 October 2016 - 10:27am

A looming assault on the Iraqi city of Mosul threatens to put more than half a million children in the line of fire unless safe routes and other civilian protection measures are put in place, Save the Children is warning.

The de facto capital of the Islamic State group in Iraq has a population of 1.2-1.5 million people. At least half of them are children.

A final push to retake the city by Iraqi and coalition forces, after two years of occupation, is slated to begin later this month. Families that stay could be caught in the crossfire. Without safe escape routes from the city, those who attempt to flee may face snipers, landmines, and capture or execution by IS fighters.

A mother who recently fled the city told Save the Children she and her three children, including a four-month-old baby, dodged bullets as they ran across the front line. Two young brothers said they ran barefoot through the outskirts of the city, leaving behind their mother who was too heavily pregnant to run but begged the boys to go.

Maurizio Crivallero, Save the Children’s Country Director in Iraq, said:

“Families have an impossible decision to make. If they stay, their children may get caught in the crossfire and suffer from no food or medicine. If they decide to flee, they will have to run a gauntlet of fighters, snipers and landmines.

“If you just count the children who are in grave danger right now, they alone would fill a city the size of Manchester. All sides must make sure there are safe routes for them to escape the fighting. The priority must be to ensure families are safe whilst they are fleeing, and properly protected if they make it out alive.”

The United Nations and aid agencies are preparing for a sudden exodus of up to a million people from the city, the most challenging humanitarian response for many years. But there is a shortage of life-saving aid – with the UN’s emergency appeal just 48% funded.

Save the Children’s rapid-response units are on standby in Iraq and the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI), and ready to deploy with safe drinking water, emergency food, basic household items, and specialist child protection support. We plan to provide psychological first aid for vulnerable children, and identify those separated from their families or fleeing alone.

Over the following days and weeks we aim to provide mobile education and mental health support, help reunite children with their families, and truck in water and supplies. Over six months we are planning to reach 200,000 people.

But we are in urgent need of more funding to provide essential support for the most vulnerable, and to ensure that child-focussed aid reaches those who need it in the very first wave of the response.

Crivallero said:

“Mosul is a city of children and the international community must do more to make sure they are safe. If we ignore the tragedy that is unfolding in Iraq, hundreds of thousands of children will pay the price.”