Thousands of children and their families are forced to live in badly damaged houses in abandoned areas with unexploded bombs, dead bodies and rubble, after the sudden closure of several camps for displaced people in Iraq, Save the Children has witnessed.
Save the Children teams spoke to parents who had been forced to leave the camps. They told harrowing accounts of finding unexploded bombs and corpses in buildings and under rubble in the areas they now reside in. Families are in urgent need of basic services such as electricity, clean and safe drinking water, food and transport, the charity said.
Ali*, 47, a father of four who returned to Mosul from Yahyawa camp in Kirkuk, said: “When we came back here, the area wasn't cleared; there were explosives. I brought down a non-exploded bomb from the rooftop of my house. Children were holding bullets but didn't know what they were. My son came to me with a non-exploded grenade in his hand. He said; 'Father, what is this?' People also found a corpse in one of the destroyed houses.
“This area was the last shelter for ISIS in Ninewa, so most of our houses were destroyed during the conflict. Our children are not safe here. They need safety, they need awareness about landmines and unexploded bombs, mental health support, toys, winter clothes and food.”
The camp closures are part of the return of around 250,000 people to their areas of origin, including 48,000 people who will be affected by camp closures before the end of November.
Some of the 303 families who have been moved out of the Yahyawa camp have arrived in Mosul, Eiyadiah and Tal Afar in Ninewa governorate, only to discover there was no safe shelter, Save the Children said. Yahyawa camp used to shelter nearly 2,000 people, including around 1,000 children. According to Save the Children's volunteers who were forced from the camps as well, families are particularly worried about girls getting kidnapped.
With winter approaching, families face spending the harshest season without adequate shelter or heating, Save the Children fears.
Shahad*, who volunteered with Save the Children in Yahyawa camp before it was closed, said: "I wish we didn't come back here, because our houses were destroyed. It's too cold and there are no adequate services like drinking water, electricity or cleaning. Most of the people refurbish a room for the whole family to live in. Children and their families are in desperate need of fuel and heating to keep them warm during the cold winter. They also need beds and blankets.”
“There are many risks to children's lives here, such as explosives, rubble, COVID-19, scarcity of food, dead bodies and skulls among the rubble, and the cold winter.”
Save the Children's Country Director in Iraq Ishtiaq Mannan said: "What’s happening now is deeply concerning. Up to 49 percent of the affected people are children who have lived in difficult camp conditions for over three years, and are now forced to live in places no child should live in: in the midst of debris and among dead bodies. This is a desperate situation for thousands of children in the middle of a pandemic, made worse by the looming start of winter. This is why we are calling on the government to provide alternative shelter for families who do not wish to return to their areas of origin.”
Teams from Save the Children are conducting an assessment in several areas of return, to understand the immediate needs of families and children. The organisation is calling on the international community to work with the Iraqi government to come to a long-term plan for the closures of the camps in line with international standards to ensure the protection of vulnerable families and children.
*Name changed to protect identity
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