Fears for 750,000 people trapped in western Mosul

Emergencies, General, Media Releases, News article written on the 14 Feb 2017

Abbie Trayler-Smith, Oxfam

An estimated 750,000 people are trapped in western Mosul without any safe means of escape in the face of a new military offensive that could start any day, Oxfam warned today.

Humanitarian conditions in the west of the city are deteriorating after supply routes were cut off in November when the east of the city was being recaptured.

Oxfam is deeply concerned for the safety of families trapped in western Mosul, particularly in the Old City where the narrow, densely-populated streets could become a death trap.

The international agency is calling on the Iraqi-led coalition, which includes Australia, to continue to uphold the Iraqi Prime Minister’s commitment to prioritise the protection of civilians in the military operations.

Oxfam’s Country Director in Iraq, Andres Gonzalez, said that despite this commitment, around 2,000 civilians were killed or injured in the first three months of the offensive to recapture Mosul. More than 190,000 people fled their homes, although around 30,000 have now returned.

“This next phase of fighting carries the highest stakes yet for civilians,” Mr Gonzalez said.

“The idea that families could be trapped amid heavy fighting – particularly in the narrow streets of the Old City – without any safe means of escape is a terrifying prospect.

“Oxfam is calling on all armed forces to avoid the use of heavy weapons in populated and built-up areas, including mortars and artillery, and to provide genuinely safe escape routes to avoid the high number of civilian casualties seen so far.”

Accounts by civilians from eastern Mosul suggest that families were targeted by ISIS and caught up in the fighting – including airstrikes – to retake the east of the city.

With all of the bridges between east and west Mosul damaged or destroyed and ISIS still in control of territory to the west of the city, there is a risk that many more civilians will be killed or injured.

Oxfam Australia’s Humanitarian Policy Advisor Nicole Bieske said Oxfam was positioning aid supplies to help respond to a possible further influx of up to 250,000 people when the second phase of the military offensive began.

Dr Bieske said blankets, heaters, hygiene kits and other vital supplies had been distributed to villages south of Mosul where more people are likely to flee. Oxfam also planned to support trauma centres in the area.

Donations to support Oxfam’s humanitarian assistance can be made online at https://www.oxfam.org.au/iraq

For interviews or more information, please contact Amanda Banks on 0411 449 653 or amandab@oxfam.org.au