Iraq: Tal Afar refugees sheltered in Mosul

Displaced by yet another US offensive, life is difficult for residents of Tal Afar who are once again relying on the kindness of strangers.

By Waad Ibrahim in Mosul (ICR No. 143, 27-Sep-05)

Families displaced by the fighting in northern city of Tal Afar are flooding into the Mosul area where they've found shelter in crowded local homes but face shortages of food and medical supplies.

"Most of displaced families live in unhealthy and inhumane conditions," said Hasan Jasim, a university professor distributing aid to the families. "There are no employment opportunities here, food rations have been cut off for a couple months, and winter is on the way. If it goes on like that, the tragedy will be greater."

Tal Afar was cleared of insurgents in military operations last year. But when coalition forces pulled out of the area, the rebels came back, prompting an 8,000 strong US offensive against the city this summer, which turned its streets into battlefields.

"All we know is that the shooting and cannon bombardment is ongoing," said Abbas Fadhil, a displaced Tal Afar resident who works as a freelance journalist.

He took shelter in a school in al-Rashidiya, a suburb of Mosul, with other refugees because houses in the area were so crowded. But, he said, soon they'll have to go, "They will kick us out because of exams and the opening of school."

Like Fadhil, many of Tal Afar's 200,000 residents, most of whom are Sunni Turkmen, fled east from the desert town toward Mosul and surrounding villages.

Duraed Kashmule, governor of Nineveh which includes Mosul and al-Rashidiya, said the local government has been providing refugees with food and other provisions.

Kashmule said his government has received no financial help from Baghdad to assist refugees, though probably will once military operations have concluded.

"We offered them humanitarian aid and food supplies, but the number of families is increasing," said Mustafa Jarallah, a member of the al-Adala Turkoman Party, which is providing aid for the displaced in al-Rashidiya. "For sure this aid won't be sufficient."

About 600 families with six to 12 people in each came to al-Rashidiya in July and August.

This is the third time Mahmud Mohammed has fled fighting in Tal Afar. "This area is safe, and the people here are kind," he said.

Mohammed has received aid from the Turkomani Front, the al-Adala Turkoman Party and the Islamic Party. But having so many displaced families in the area is causing problems. Mohammed found a house where he can stay for free, but some are charging rents too high for the refugees to afford, he said.

In the al-Mahalabiya district of Mosul, more Tal Afar refugees have taken up temporary residence. For security reasons, they asked that their real names not be used.

"It's not important how long we stay here but how long it takes till this damned war comes to end," said Abu Mohammed. "Fighting with the Americans and feuds among the tribes pushed us into this state. Tal Afar is passing through a deep distress, and we beg God to save us."

Sisters Amina and Halime say their living conditions in al-Mahalabiya are miserable. They are here with their father and don't know where the rest of the family ended up when they fled Tal Afar.

"Anyone who watches government TV says that life is ok, but most of what the government TV shows is far from reality," said Halime. "We haven't received food rations for several months and haven't witnessed security or calm in Tal Afar since a year ago."

Another Tal Afar resident has only one concern - finding her injured son whom she had to leave behind. "I don't know which hospital he's in, laying between life and death," she said.

Waad Ibrahim is an IWPR trainee journalist in Mosul.