Mosul Weekly Protection Update (25 February - 3 March 2017)
The military offensive to retake western Mosul has so far resulted in the displacement of 191,826 people. To date, 255,708 women, boys, girls and men have been displaced due to the offensive since 17 October 2016. Of this total, 63,882 have returned, reportedly to their areas of origin. In addition, families continue to flee Shirqat and Hawiga which remain under the control of extremist groups. The main protection challenges identified were the lack of safe passage, increased reports of security screening resulting in family separation and child protection issues. Achievements were evident in the area of family reunificaion and registration of senior students for exams.
Access to safety and displacement trends
Displacement out of east and west Mosul continues alongside movement out of east Shirqat and Hawiga. Shelling and IED attacks by extremist group sleeper cells continued in east Mosul neighbourhoods like Karama, Rashediya, Quysyat, Samah and Al-Noor. Families seeking refuge in the camps located in the east and north report that while washing water is available, drinking water, electricity and food remain unavailable or beyond means for the majority of families. Hasansham/Khazer, Nargizlia and Qaymawa camps continue to receive a steady flow of internally displaced persons (IDPs) from east Mosul. The situation is worse for families fleeing west Mosul who have reported that, for three weeks, food, electricity and water have been so scarce that reports of infant deaths due to malnutrition are widespread. Families from west Mosul areas like Al-Ma’moun, Mulawata, Al-Abur and Tyaran report that escape routes out of the city towards the liberated east are closed off and manned by snipers, with extremist groups conducting indiscriminate attacks on neighborhoods that Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) have retaken. Families report walking several hours before being transported to Jeddah, Airstrip, Haj Ali and Hammam Al-Alil camps. UNHCR protection teams have observed that authorities are exercising some flexibility with about 400 families reported to have left Hamman Al-Alil under sponsorship arrangements with family from Hamman Al-Alil and east Mosul. The Ministry of Migration and Displacement (MoMD) reports that more than 26,000 people have fled Mosul in the last week.
IDPs from Hawiga continue to flee towards Kirkuk, Shirqat and Salah al-Din where they are accommodated in IDP camps in Kirkuk, government building in Shirqat and Al-Alam and Al-Shahama camps in Salah al-Din. The majority of IDPs report fleeing Hawiga through Hamreen Mountain, which remains unsafe, but the most widely used route of escape. IDPs who manage to reach safety report incidents of retaliation by extremist groups for those caught fleeing and also, casualties and fatalities due to IEDs en route. UNHCR protection teams have observed a reduction in the number of IDPs fleeing Hawiga into Kirkuk and Salah Al-din while more IDPs are increasingly heading towards Qayyarah and Shirqat as access and movement procedures are less restrictive than Kirkuk. UNHCR continues to provide much needed shelter and core relief assistance to those fleeing the conflict while also advocating for safe passage for all civilians, distinction between civilian and military actors, and for security procedures to be conducted within the confines of the law.
Security screening and detention
Fleeing IDPs are subjected to numerous layers of screening that occur at formal and informal screening sites during displacement. Male (12+) IDPs report undergoing at least three screenings before being transported to Jeddah, Airstrip and Haj Ali camps and also the recently opened Hammam Al-Alil camp. IDPs report that upon reaching ISF controlled-areas females and males are separated and while everyone is body searched, males undergo additional security screening to identify those accused of affiliation with extremist groups. Protection actors identified 150 detention cases, including four children, arrested and detained in Hammam Al-Alil over two days. While some detention cases are cleared within a few hours, many males are kept for much longer and families report that they are rarely given information regarding where they will be transported to and in which facility they will be held. UNHCR and protection actors work towards identifying separated families, documenting detention cases and liaising with camp management/ authorities to facilitate family reunification and follow-up for detention cases.
Despite security concerns, hundreds of families continue to return to Rashediya, Samah and Al-Karama in east Mosul. In addition, some families have reportedly gone into secondary displacement in other Governorates in Baghdad and Salah al-Din. IDPs state that the restrictive camp conditions, the desire to resume a normal life, to reunite with family and to safe guard personal property are factors influencing the decision to return. Returns to Mosul City and Gogachly remain the highest among IDPs departing Hasansham and Khazer camps with 29,149 out of the nearly 40,000 departures from these camps to date. UNHCR protection teams closely monitor return movement to assess voluntariness and conditions of return. East Mosul returnees report a dire shortage of potable water, high food and electricity costs and limited availability of basic medical services. Those who returned to Tilkaif report that public clinics have not re-opened and that to access medical services they have to rely on private nurses who are mostly unaffordable. The lack of livelihood opportunities and safety in east Mosul have been cited as key by returnees who are considering going back to the camps.
Restrictions on access to safe passage routes
As the Mosul, Hawija and Shirqat military offensives proceed, escape routes are becoming increasingly precarious amidst reports of abductions and intimidation by armed groups. Fewer IDPs have fled Hawija to Kirkuk, with 85 families recorded this week compared to 240 families last week. UNHCR and other protection actors continue to advocate for increased monitoring and identification of safe passage routes for fleeing IDPs.
In Kirkuk, 77 families (387 individuals) reportedly returned to retaken areas of Salah al-Din, Anbar and Diyala governorates amidst fears of forced evictions by the authorities. Following UNHCR interventions, authorities have halted forced evictions from the camps and have as well returned seized ID documents. Reports abound of other forms of pressure to return, including instructions to school administrators in Tobzawa and Yaychi villages to stop accepting IDP students in order to compel their return. UNHCR continuously advocates with authorities for IDPs to be afforded equal access to educational and welfare services and for coercive measures compelling premature returns to be discontinued. The unstable security situation and reports of violence in newly retaken areas remains a cause of fear deterring returns. UNHCR and other protection actors continue to advocate for voluntary, safe and dignified returns.
In Qaymawa camp, northeast of Mosul, families from disputed territories continue to express frustration at the decision by authorities not to allow them to return. They note that permission to return to their areas of origin is being granted for Kurdish IDPs under a sponsorship arrangement while Arab families are not afforded the same opportunity. UNHCR has repeatedly raised this issue with local authorities and was informed that the decision to allow return to disputed areas like Zummar and Wana rests with higher authorities. UNHCR will follow up with relevant authorities accordingly.
Child protection and education
UNHCR protection partners continue to identify separated and unaccompanied children in the Mosul camps. Case workers are assigned who try to locate the parents or to identify caregivers pending family reunification. With the large displacement over a short period of time a number of separated children were identified at Hammam Al-Alil camp. All were successfully reunited with their family.
School attendance among female students in Debaga camps is low reportedly due to coeducation at the secondary school. UNHCR has facilitated meetings between the school, education partners and the Ministry of Education. As a result, plans are underway for two school shifts for male and female students to encourage female attendance.
IDPs in Kurdistan Regional Government controlled camps face movement restrictions that limit, among other things, their opportunities for higher education. To assist students wishing to sit for annual exams at Al-Noor University, UNHCR protection partner in Hasansham/Khazer camps has coordinated with camp management, Asseyish and MoMD in order to facilitate permission for the students to leave the camp, and provided transportation to and from the exam venue. UNHCR continues to urge authorities to enable IDPs to access more educational and livelihood opportunities.