Erbil, Asharq Al-Awsat—While Western and international media continue to shine a spotlight on the mass exodus of Mosul’s Christians at the hands of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), many Muslims from Mosul—including members of minorities and Sunnis affiliated to the former regime—have also been forced to flee, spending Eid on the road or in refugee camps in Iraq’s Kurdistan region.
Every year, Abu Mohamad’s family used to celebrate Eid Al-Fitr with relatives and neighbors in Mosul. But all that changed with ISIS’s capture of the city. Abu Mohamad had been a police officer, so was forced to flee his hometown for fear of ISIS retribution. Asharq Al-Awsat spoke with Abu Mohammad at the Al-Khazar refugee camp, 30 miles (50 kilometers) west of the Kurdistan region’s capital Erbil.
“My brothers and I are used to meeting every Eid at my father’s house where we would always spend the first day of [the festival]. But this year, as you can see, we have not been able to celebrate Eid because of the dire humanitarian situation,” he told Asharq Al-Awsat.
Sat in a tiny blue tent bleached white by scorching sun and sandstorms, he lamented “extreme shortages of everything, from drinking water and ice to electricity and foodstuffs” in the camp that was now his home.
“I do not deny that water and food supplies are being distributed to the camp by the Kurdistan Regional Government and charities, but these are small amounts and are not enough. The number of refugees has increased,” he explained.
While Iraqi Kurdistan’s refugee camps are filled with Christians who fled Mosul after ISIS ordered them to convert to Islam or face execution, a small but significant number of Mosul’s Sunni residents were also forced to flee the city due to their ties to the central government.
“I am the only one from my family to have left Mosul. My father and brothers remain in the city because they work in the market, but I had to leave because I am a policeman, and as you know ISIS has justified the murder of members of the police and the army,” Abu Mohamed told Asharq Al-Awsat.
To the east of the 800-tent refugee camp, the authorities have installed huge water storage tanks for the refugees to use. Refugees from Mosul can be seen soaking their clothes in water to deal with the scorching heat.
Aisha, a 50-year-old refugee from Mosul, stands in a long line waiting to fill her bucket of water.
“I line up and transfer water to the camp several times a day. My husband used to help me but he suffered sunstroke in the heat and is now bedridden. The mobile health clinic provided us with medication, but his condition is still difficult,” Aisha told Asharq Al-Awsat.
“This is the toughest Eid ever. We Iraqis have gone through many horrors over the past years but being forced to flee our homes has broken our backs,” she said.
Like all those who left Mosul, Aisha complained about the lack of action on the part of the Baghdad government.
“Where is the government that terrorized us over the past years and detained our helpless sons? Why does it not liberate Mosul from ISIS? Where are the parliament, the government and ministers? They all fled and all hell broke loose on us poor and ordinary citizens,” she added.
Aisha, who had hoped to join her daughter in Erbil, finds herself stuck in the Al-Khazar refugee camp with no end in sight.
“Yesterday I tried to enter Erbil to go and live with my daughter who has been married there for four years. But the checkpoints did not allow me to enter because I am a refugee. They told me I had to return to the camp,” she said.
Children are the most affected among the refugees. The dire humanitarian conditions at the camp have made it difficult for the children—who traditionally receive money and new clothes as Eid gifts—to celebrate.
“This year I have not received any new clothes for Eid, unlike every year. My dad does not have money because we left everything in our house,” Aya Jalal, a 10-year-old girl from Mosul, told Asharq Al-Awsat.