Ghosts of Mosul stalk Iraq’s fleeing children

By AFP – Apr 02,2017 – JORDAN TIMES

 

Displaced Iraqi people who fled their homes stand in a queue to receive aid in the city of Mosul, Iraq, on Sunday (Reuters photo)

HASAN SHAM CAMP, Iraq — The children proudly wield donated plastic water bottles like freshly dug nuggets of treasure, smiling despite the fear and death and destruction they have faced in their ruined city.

With the impetuousness that only children can muster, they forget for a moment the hell they’ve endured in Mosul.

“We had a big house, but Daesh bombed and burned it,” says 10-year-old Nora, her undersized frame draped in a hand-me-down dress with a black, Peter Pan collar.

“They destroyed us.”

 She is among thousands of children whose young lives have been torn apart by a vast military operation to recapture Iraq’s second city of Mosul from the Daesh terror group, known locally by the Arabic acronym “Daesh”.

She sits in a tent with other displaced children at a refugee camp 30 kilometres east of Mosul, quietly scrawling a pencil drawing of a bright pink heart.

That’s far enough to finally silence the constant thud of shelling and the crack of rifle fire that they’ve heard for weeks.

The facilities are fine but basic: a few linoleum tables, plastic chairs, crayons, pencils and paper. The tent exteriors are daubed with bright murals of fields of flowers, technicolour handprints and SpongeBob SquarePants. 

A small astroturf volleyball court fades in the clear March sunshine.

Invisible scars 

For Maulid Warfa, an aid worker with the United Nation’s children’s fund UNICEF, this “Child Friendly Space” has a crucial function.

“Here is where children feel like children again,” he says.

Iraqi authorities say more than 200,000 people have fled west Mosul since an operation to oust Daesh from their former stronghold began last month after security forces had earlier captured eastern neighbourhoods. 

The battle has taken a deadly toll on civilians, sparking calls for greater efforts to protect them.

When in the tent or in the play area, Nora and her friends could almost be mistaken for happy, carefree children anywhere.

But those fleeing Mosul have their tells: fatigue darkening the eyes, sallow cheeks, shadows cast a little too thinly.

“It’s because of Daesh that we are here,” says nine-year-old Abdulrahman, sitting next to Nora at the black table strewn with crayon sketches.

“There,” he says of Mosul, “there is fear.”

 He talks against a soundtrack of children laughing and singing as they chase each other through the area. 

But each child here bears hidden scars.

‘Burning inside’ 

“When they were in Mosul, they went through very, very difficult experiences,” says Warfa. 

“They have seen things that they should not have, many of them have seen people that have been killed. They have seen dead bodies.” 

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Categories: Arab World, Asia, Iraq, The Muslim Times

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