As Mosul is retaken, ShelterBox stands by to help families that survived the epic battle.

Mosul1As nine months of bloody battle end in the routing of Islamic State resistance, aid agencies, including ShelterBox are standing by ready to support families who were trapped in a destroyed city

The long wait is over. Military reports indicate that the final enclaves of IS resistance in Mosul are now in retreat, signalling the end of the largest and longest urban battle anywhere on the earth since World War 2.

It is three years almost to the day that IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared a Caliphate in the Iraqi city of Mosul, and since last October the UN estimates that 855,000 people have fled the city.

Emergency shelter experts, ShelterBox and its partner aid agencies, most based in the city of Erbil 50 miles from Mosul, have faced huge challenges in responding to one of the world’s most unpredictable sieges – not knowing when people would flee, in what numbers, and in which direction. Displacement camps in the area have long been over capacity, so ShelterBox has tailored much of its aid to be highly portable, meeting the needs of families on the move in this hostile environment.

There are reports that as many as 100,000 people remain in Mosul, no longer held under IS control as human shields, but undoubtedly traumatised from years of warfare, starvation, and living without power, healthcare or fresh water. Those civilians who managed to escape have been rescued, hungry and severely shell-shocked. How many remain huddling in bombed-out buildings in daytime temperatures of 50° daytime is unknown.

Near Mosul, ShelterBox has worked with partners ACTED to:

  • Support 8,000 households / 40,000 individuals since the start of the offensive in October 2016 (5,682 households have been sheltered, additional households received individual items).
  • We have around 3,000 kits standing by now to be distributed when needed.
  • Our aid offer is adjusted with the changing seasons. Iraq is subject to extremes of temperature, over 50° c in summer, and below freezing in winter.

 

A ShelterBox team is in Erbil now making plans to respond to whatever displacement is triggered by the military endgame. Operations Coordinator Sam Hewett says, Although we have prepared for this stage over many months, it is still unpredictable in size and scale. We don’t yet know exactly how many tens of thousands remain in Mosul, what their needs are, and whether they can be met by staying in Mosul. The Old City has suffered extensive damage, with little power or water infrastructure surviving. While relative peace is to be welcomed, we are also concerned about underlying tensions in the region and what they mean for longer-term stability.

ShelterBox and its partners will have to act quickly but cautiously in responding to this latest phase in a very long story.’  

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Meanwhile ShelterBox continues its five-year intervention in Syria, where the city of Raqqa is the focus of a final military offensive. ShelterBox is not able to act here directly with teams on the ground because of the volatile and dangerous security environment, working instead through implementing partners such as Hand in Hand for Syria and ReliefAid. Other partners cannot be named for security reasons.

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ShelterBox has been responding to this conflict since 2012, providing shelter and lifesaving items to households in neighbouring countries Jordan (2012, 2013), Iraq (2013-2017) and Lebanon (2012, 2013) and to families transiting through the Greek islands (2015). In Syria itself a total of 24,404 households have been supported. Now ShelterBox is gearing up for its biggest ever single aid push into Syria. Details of locations and routes cannot be given because ShelterBox must do all it can to protect its people and its partners.

In 2016 across Iraq and Syria ShelterBox aid reached an estimated 230,000 people.

You can help those displaced b y conflict by donating here: PLEASE DONATE

Heart-breaking conversations with escapees from Mosul

ShelterBox’s Alice Jefferson has just returned from Iraq. Here in a screening and aid distribution centre south west of Mosul Airport, she met people who have just left behind one of the most intense battles on earth, still raging just a few miles away. They may have lost loved ones, their homes, their possessions. But they have escaped with their lives.

ShelterBox Operations Coordinator, Alice Jefferson in Iraq

Salamiyah is a surreal place. A former gas depot just a few miles from Mosul airport. Up to 14,000 people a day have passed through the screening site. It is the first step on a road that is taking the battle-weary of Mosul towards some sort of safety.

After security screening families receive initial basic support and their first meal. Most will then be taken by bus to camps, or, if they prefer, to relatives in the surrounding area. Aid is also being given to host families, and to communities that have also lived under two years of Islamic State rule. The flow of people through the site now requires a continuous 24 hour bus service for onward travel.

Alice spoke with a grandmother who now lives in Salamiyah village. ShelterBox respects their wishes not to be named, and in some cases not to be photographed. Despite all their hardships she was smiling and happy to discuss her situation with the team.

‘We have lived under Daesh (Islamic State) control for over two years’ the grandmother told Alice. When asked where her family is currently living she said, ‘We stay in the Institute with over a hundred other families.’ The Institute is a collective centre in the village of Salamiyah providing shelter to internally displaced families who were once held under Islamic State control. ‘I want to go home,’ she says poignantly, ‘But for now it is not possible.’

The grandmother and her family are from a nearby town called Gwer, on the banks of the Great Zab River, a strategic link between the cities of Tikrit and Mosul that flows into the Tigris. Gwer was captured by Islamic State in August 2014. Most schools were closed then, and children such as her granddaughter have missed out on education for over two years. ‘She has not been able to attend school, and there is also no schooling available here either.’

The town was retaken by the Kurdish Peshmerga forces, but the bridge and key supply route across the river was badly damaged by Islamic State fighters. Fighting has continued for months and the town is now heavily fortified.

As Alice was talking to grandmother and granddaughter another family came forward keen to tell their story. They also dared not give names, and would not be photographed. They came from Al-Shuhada, a district in Western Mosul retaken by advancing Iraqi forces on 8 March after days of heavy fighting. The mother said, ‘I was displaced just four days ago.’

Alice asked if the young boy waiting quietly by her side was her son. She said ‘Yes, I also have two daughters – three children with no father.’ Alice asked what had happened to their father. ‘Daesh have been in control for two years. Our family lived in Mosul before, but I have family that originally came from this village. Before they came into the city my husband was working with the police service, collecting intelligence on Daesh.’

She reached for her tissue and was visibly upset at the memory. ‘When the city was taken my husband was murdered by Daesh. They took him away and cut him many times. He was then thrown into the landfill. No burial.’

His brutal murder took place more than two years ago, and since then the family has had to live under the rule of the people that killed their husband and father. They escaped as soon as they could, crossing the front line into Federal Iraq-controlled areas. They were screened before being bussed south to Salamiyah, choosing to not go into the government-run displacement camps as she had family connections in the village. This support structure is vital now she has lost her husband and her home.

Alice asked if the family will return to West Mosul. ‘No it is not likely that we will return,’ she said. ‘There is nothing left for us in Mosul’.

Alice Jefferson says, ‘As the distribution continued I spoke to a number of other women in the line. A startlingly common theme began to emerge. Husbands, fathers and sons were missing.’

ShelterBox aid being distributed in Salamiyah

The danger of freezing nights has now succumbed to rainy days, where dust is quickly churned to mud underfoot, and soon there will be the prospect of annual desert storms. Iraq can have an inhospitable climate, and shelter from the strong winds is essential, not a luxury. The weather was kind when Alice and colleagues visited Salamiyah, but on the previous day planned visits had to be cancelled due to severe rainfall.

 

You can help those fleeing the terror in Mosul by donating today: PLEASE DONATE

Which way to run from war-torn Mosul? How desperate do you have to be to flee across the border into Syria?!

Syria seems the very opposite of safety or sanctuary. But as aid agencies in Iraq steel themselves for a possible outpouring from Mosul, ShelterBox and its partners find that even Syrian camps are now becoming boltholes for families on the run. 


Shelterbox aid being distributed to Iraqi IDPs

Mosul in Iraq, home to over a million civilians, now trapped by an intense battle to reclaim the last ISIS stronghold in the country. At any point, in any numbers, in any direction, hundreds of thousands could suddenly be on the run from warfare.

Some 80,000 civilians have fled Mosul and nearby areas so far, and the United Nations is preparing for a worst-case scenario in which more than a million people are made homeless as winter descends. ‘Children and their families in Mosul are facing a horrific situation. Not only are they in danger of getting killed or injured in the cross-fire, now potentially more than half a million people do not have safe water to drink,’ said UNICEF’s Iraq representative Peter Hawkins.

Iraqi children wearing red ShelterBox hats, scarves and gloves

Now reports from a partner organisation distributing ShelterBox aid in Hasake Governorate point to significant numbers fleeing east from Mosul into Syria. New Zealand based ReliefAid is one of ShelterBox’s long-standing distribution partners in Syria. Likewise London-based Hand in Hand for Syria, delivering ShelterBox tents and warm clothing to Syrian displacement camps (see photo), also finds some beneficiaries are from Mosul.

ReliefAid Executive Director Mike Seawright says, ‘We recently completed our ShelterBox distribution in Syria’s North Eastern Hasake Governorate, bordering Iraq. We were supporting a refugee camp in which 80% of the families were from Mosul or surrounding areas.’

This is a constantly changing situation, but ReliefAid reports that thousands of families from Mosul have recently found crossing the border into Syria preferable to taking their chances in Iraq. This is counter-intuitive, a turning of the human tide, which is forcing families from one dire situation into another.

And now the military offensive on Raqqa in Syria is creating another dynamic. Mike Seawright adds, ‘The offensive against ISIS in Raqqa is displacing more civilians into Hasake Governorate. Initial reports are that displaced families have been arriving into camps in the North of Syria over the last few days. These numbers are expected to increase as the military action gains momentum. Combined with the Mosul offensive unmet humanitarian needs, including shelter, are expected to continue to increase dramatically within the Governorate.‘

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All ShelterBox partners in Syria and Iraq – ReliefAid, Hand in Hand for Syria, ACTED and new associates Czech-based People in Need – deliver life-saving aid to communities under fire, working in some of the most dangerous places on earth, security issues dictating discretion and a low profile. 

Alongside ongoing work inside Syria, ShelterBox has been preparing for whatever Mosul will create in terms of humanitarian need. Via ACTED households in Northern Iraq have already received basic shelter-related kits from ShelterBox, and tents and aid are prepositioned ready to deploy as families are displaced from the fighting. 1,000 beneficiary households in Ninewa and Erbil Governorates will receive first line shelter support. Thousands of lightweight tents are also on standby, for use in agreement with Shelter Cluster leads.

ShelterBox’s Rachel Harvey has just ended a deployment to Iraq, including a field visit to locations in Ninewa province where aid convoys have to pass through several military checkpoints. Rachel said of this journey, ‘The close proximity of the fighting is really striking. One minute you are drinking coffee in a hotel, an hour and a half later you are driving through an obliterated village on your way to deliver aid to people displaced by a conflict you can hear being waged on the horizon. The distance between peace and relative prosperity, and the devastation of war is frighteningly short.’ 

Response Team volunteer, Jack Bailey is still in Iraq training partners in use of the charity’s aid. Jack says, ‘Our preparedness is the result of months of planning, and of course the generosity of our donors. But, however much notice we have had of a Mosul displacement, there are still many unknowns. We will have to respond as events unfold, and look to our supporters to help us meet the demand.’   

ReliefAid has had to make the difficult decision to move its current winter aid distribution to the Idlib countryside as a result of the terrible situation in Aleppo City. Continued attacks against civilians, extreme medical shortages, zero access to humanitarian assistance and severe food shortages are causing the already dire living situation to deteriorate rapidly.

Aleppo, Mosul, now Raqqa. ShelterBox and its international partners stand ready to help families on the run from war wherever it is safe to do so. But this region will soon be in the grip of an icy winter, with storms and freezing overnight temperatures a real threat to families trapped in ruined cities,  fleeing across desert or up into the mountains.

ShelterBox is supporting families fleeing Mosul, but we need your help!

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FORCED INTO THE DESERT BY FIGHTING


Forced out by crossfire and the threat of chemical weapons, families fleeing Mosul desperately need shelter and safety. Help us be there to give them the safety and protection that ShelterBox aid can provide.

For the last two years, Islamic State has had a tight grip on the city of Mosul, Iraq. But on Monday, 17 October, Iraqi security forces, along with Kurdish and Tribal forces and support from the US, began a military offensive to retake the city.

While this fighting could signal a massive change in the war, thousands of families have been left in the crossfire. Military assaults are happening all over the city, especially in densely populated areas, and the threat of chemical warfare hangs heavy in the air.

In the midst of this chaos, the residents of Mosul are looking for an escape. Almost a thousand people have fled the city, but this could turn into hundreds of thousands – even a million.

Biggest crisis the country has ever seen

The decision to flee is a brutal one. Between the unimaginable horrors of Islamic State rule and the country’s borders lie miles of desert, harsh storms and bitterly cold nights. This could be the biggest humanitarian crisis the country has seen.

We have to be there, not just to provide physical shelter, but safety and protection after years of suffering.

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We cannot fail these families

One of our dedicated ShelterBox response teams is on the ground now, working hard to provide shelter. Almost 500 of our family-sized ShelterBox tents have just arrived in the country, with another 1,500 on the way, but we need more. We have to be prepared. We cannot greet these families with empty hands.

Please help us reach them – before it’s too late.

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Your donation will help us provide durable family-sized tents to people forced out of Mosul with no belongings and nowhere to go.

You’ll also help us support those who have managed to find temporary shelter in half-built and damaged buildings.

In the region of Duhok, in Northern Iraq, we’re already providing families with ShelterKits filled with all the essentials they need.

Tough, durable tarpaulins can be used to make a waterproof shelter next to any remaining wall, while mattresses and blankets give people somewhere warm and comfortable to sleep. Simple items like solar lamps and water carriers help to make daily life a little easier and much safer. Everything is easy to carry so if a family needs to move and find shelter elsewhere it can be taken with them.

ON THE GROUND, RESPONDING NOW


We have been working in Iraq since 2012, supporting people fleeing from conflict both in Iraq and across the border in Syria.

We’re working in the country right now. Helping families who need our help today, along with those who will need it tomorrow.

ShelterBox response team member Rachel Harvey reports from Seje in Northern Iraq on our work with fellow aid agency ACTED to make unfinished houses weatherproof for families on the run from Islamic State.

ShelterBox aid arrives in Erbil ahead of anticipated exodus from Mosul

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ShelterBox has now established a pipeline of aid that will see thousands of tents waiting to help families fleeing war in Mosul. Now the anxious wait begins, for the trickle of escapees that may turn into a flood.

International disaster relief agency, ShelterBox has today seen its first consignment of emergency tents arrive in the city of Erbil, just 50 miles from Mosul. Thousands of family relief tents will be pre-positioned close to expected distribution points, anticipating the needs of those escaping the city as fighting intensifies.

ShelterBox’s Rachel Harvey says, ‘The first 500 ShelterBox tents have arrived, another 1,500 are expected in coming days, with more to follow. We are expecting this military offensive to last several weeks, if not months. But we don’t know how many civilians will be able to escape Mosul City or when. So we are working with partners preparing aid in order to react quickly as events unfold.’  

Pallets fo ShelterBox relief tents arrive in Erbil

Pallets fo ShelterBox relief tents arrive in Erbil

In addition to thousands of tents – up to 6,000 are currently committed – ShelterBox has also been working with in-country partner, Paris-based ACTED, to prepare 600 basic kits of essential items such as water carriers, blankets, cooking pots and solar lights for use in camps. In a later phase 1,000 households displaced to Ninewa and Erbil Governates will receive similar kits along with robust tarpaulins and fixings to build emergency shelters. These kits will be for families on the move, expected to be outside the already over-subscribed displacement camps.

ACTED has secure warehouses where their logistics teams can store thousands of tents and kits. The ShelterBox tents arriving now are intended for use in ‘emergency camp’ settings – when the main camps are full or while they wait for those camps to be ready.

In whichever directions people flee Mosul, they will face exhausting journeys by foot across a hostile desert landscape. The longer fighting continues over coming weeks, the greater the chances of stormy weather and sub-zero night temperatures. Portable aid to shelter families on the move will be essential.

Rachel adds, ‘Some people have been displaced in the last couple of days as territory is reclaimed by coalition forces. But the majority of people in Mosul city remain trapped.’ No-one knows the actual number of civilians who have lived here under ISIL rule for the last two years, but it is estimated to be over a million, meaning hundreds of thousands may move suddenly into the desert if escape routes open up as a result of military action.   

Camps established by the United Nations are likely to be used first, and others are still being prepared. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that intensive efforts are being made to create much needed shelter capacity and to get infrastructure in place for emergency food distribution, water, sanitation, hygiene needs and healthcare.

But it is expected that camps will not be able to meet the need if and when very large numbers begin fleeing the conflict.

ShelterBox has planned ahead over months with ACTED, and has partners at work on the Syrian side of the border, including New Zealand based ReliefAid. Rachel says, ‘Good coordination will be key to the success of the humanitarian effort.’ 

THE LONG-PLANNED MILITARY ASSAULT ON MOSUL CITY IN IRAQ COULD CAUSE AS MANY AS A MILLION ‘EXHAUSTED AND TRAUMATISED’ PEOPLE TO FLEE

image of Mosul city

© Reuters

 

Fallujah fell in June. Now Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul, is the focus of an international coalition seeking to push ISIL out of Iraq. Haider al-Abadi, the Iraqi Prime Minister, announced the start of the offensive on state television on 17 October. And Mosul won’t be surrendered easily – it has great strategic and symbolic importance. It was here that ISIL proclaimed a caliphate two years ago.

Long-term partners French ACTED and ShelterBox have teams in the city of Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan, just 53 miles from Mosul. They have been working for weeks to get aid supplies ready so they can respond quickly as the battle unfolds. Tens of thousands of people have already been displaced from Mosul and surrounding areas since March. The working assumption is that as the assault progresses numbers will rise rapidly.

Contingency planning in war zones is never easy. But aid agencies in Iraq are grappling with several unknowns. For example, it’s unclear how many people remain in Mosul – some estimates put the figure as high as 1.5 million. Nor do aid agencies know how long the military operation will last, how many people will flee, and in which directions. Planning for how much aid will be needed, and where, is a matter of instinct and assumption.

Existing camps are already near or beyond capacity so other possible sites are currently being readied.  But demand will almost certainly outstrip supply, meaning many families could be forced to seek shelter outside managed camps in a barren and inhospitable landscape at a time of year given to storms and freezing overnight temperatures.

ShelterBox’s Rachel Harvey in Erbil says, ‘The aim is to get aid to displaced families as quickly as possible. So we are prepositioning stock close to places where we think they might arrive. They are likely to be exhausted and traumatised by their recent experiences. Giving people shelter and essential items such as a solar lamp, blankets and a water carrier will allow them a degree of dignity and security to rest and recover.

But the over-riding feeling is that the numbers and the need will be overwhelming, that the capacity of the combined international assistance will not be enough. The UN estimates that only 54% of the necessary aid funding is in place.

Earlier this year ShelterBox and ACTED made half-finished houses weatherproof in the village of Seje for 2,000 people who had fled the terror of Mount Sinjar two years ago. And ShelterBox has recently committed 3,000 tents for the region, and has a further 3,000 on standby. The first shipment left its Cornwall warehouse last week. ShelterBox is also working with ACTED to make improvements in displacement camps, and has been sourcing and storing portable kits that will allow families on the move to create their own rudimentary shelters.

ShelterBox is asking its donors to dig deep to provide over £1.75 million more to allow this vital work to continue.

You can help by donating here: PLEASE DONATE

ShelterBox Responds To Civil Unrest In Iraq

RAQ KURDISTAN. AUGUST 2013. Syrian refugees gather at camps in Iraq Kurdistan (Hunter Tanous/ShelterBox).

RAQ KURDISTAN. AUGUST 2013. Syrian refugees gather at camps in Iraq Kurdistan (Hunter Tanous/ShelterBox).

 

ShelterBox is liaising with partner aid agencies in Iraq Kurdistan to see how the international disaster relief charity can help people who have been forced to flee their homes as civil unrest spreads across the country.
Violence broke out in the city of Mosul earlier this week, forcing 500,000 people from their homes. The majority have fled further north to Iraq Kurdistan’s main cities of Erbil and Duhok to seek safety and shelter.
ShelterBox has been working in the region over the past few years helping Syrian refugee families, providing them with shelter and other vital aid. The charity’s operations department is in contact with its partner humanitarian organisations in the area.
‘We have been looking into the situation since the civil unrest began a few days ago,’ said ShelterBox operations manager Alf Evans. ‘We are getting updates from in country partner aid agencies who we’ve worked with before that include the latest figures of those displaced and where they are as well as the latest developments of what is a very fluid situation. We are waiting for a clearer picture to see how and if we can assist the displaced families, as many are staying in schools and with friends and relatives.’
You can find out more about Kurdistan here.
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