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FAIRFIELD, Conn. (November 1, 2016) — As Iraqi forces close in on IS-held Mosul, now is a critical moment to protect children and open safe routes to allow the 1.5 million civilians still trapped in the city, including about 600,000 children, to leave safely.
With civilians bracing for the anticipated escalation in violence, Save the Children warns that safe passages must be urgently established.
Maurizio Crivellaro, Save the Children’s Iraq Country Director said innocent civilians face growing risks each day they remain in Mosul. "As fighting escalates, it is going to become increasingly difficult for families to leave, and for those who remain and are injured to get the medical treatment they need. We cannot sit back and wait for another situation like Aleppo to unfold while there is still the opportunity to get children out of the warzone."
Fears are mounting for families trapped in the city amid reports of civilians being rounded up as targets, with IS placing them in the line of fire ahead of the imminent onslaught. An increasing number of hospitals and schools are believed to be occupied by IS fighters, and concerns are growing that they will be targeted by military forces in the coming days.
Mahmoud* recently escaped the village of Shura, south of Mosul. As fighting approached the village about a week ago, he and his family were taken deeper into IS territory, where IS were reportedly forcing people to act as human shields.
"We and about 100 families were taken on foot about 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) along the road and were about to arrive in Surouj when Iraqi military helicopters attacked. There was so much fighting everywhere and we were trapped between the two villages."
In the chaos, the families fled back to their village, but were forced to leave again days later when they heard IS was coming back.
While more than 17,700 people have fled from towns in the Mosul region as the frontline has approached the city, the residents of Mosul itself have been prevented from leaving by IS fighters who have planted land mines and stationed snipers around the city, as well as by fighting in the area.
"Protecting innocent civilians must be the priority in this battle," Crivellaro said. "Reports that IS has kidnapped people from villages nearby Mosul city shows they intend to make this fight as difficult as possible by hiding in a city full of civilians.
"Iraqi forces must ensure that families are given genuinely safe passages out of the city to avoid mass casualties of innocent civilians who will be caught in the crossfire and beyond the reach of humanitarian aid.
"Military commanders have previously suggested vulnerable families stay inside and put white flags on their homes. This risks making them targets.
"The recent commitment of the Iraqi Prime Minister to establish safe corridors is reassuring – we need to see this prioritized and it should happen as soon as possible."
Mahmoud said that children’s quality of life was under IS rule was significantly impacted, and they were unable to go to school or enjoy any semblance of normality. "I have four daughters. Before IS, the older ones were going to school and loved it. When IS took over the content of the curriculum changed, so we stopped sending them to school. Every lesson became militarized. Even math lessons—they would teach the children ‘one bullet plus one bullet equals two bullets’. They haven’t been to school for two years."
"We didn’t have anything – I even had to sell my car for money to spend on food and medicine for my children," he said.
*Names have been changed to protect identities.
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