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Voices from Mosul

A glimpse into life under so-called Islamic State, in the words of those who escaped

Story by World Food Programme November 10th, 2016

Updated 24 November

WFP continues to follow frontlines in Mosul by delivering life-saving food assistance to families in camps and newly retaken areas. Since the onset of the Mosul offensive in October, WFP and its partners have provided ready-to-eat food to more than 196,000 people affected by the conflict.

Behind kilometres of barbed wire, a sea of people sit huddled among multicoloured mattresses, blankets, boxes of utensils and overflowing bags of clothes. Two men carrying a heavy metal stove attempt to navigate their way through the crowds and piles of possessions. “We wanted to be sure we would be able to cook here,” one of them says. “We have to make this feel like home for a time.”

“Home” is now Khazer camp, a safe haven for over 6,000 Iraqis who have fled the fighting in Mosul, just 45 kilometres away. Most have arrived from the city's Gogjali neighbourhood, in the first significant wave of people displaced from their homes since the start of the offensive on 17th October. Although the area was recaptured by the Iraqi Security Forces, intense fighting left many with no choice but to leave – and do it quickly.


Many people arriving at the camp are exhausted, confused and hungry. The World Food Programme (WFP) greets them with a hot meal and food boxes. Once settled in the camp with access to cooking facilities, they continue to receive WFP food every month, including wheat flour, chickpeas, beans and oil. So far, WFP has reached over 137,000 people with monthly food supplies. Some of them live in camps like Khazer, others choose to stay in temporary accommodation closer to home.

In every corner of the camp, tears are shed and emotional reunions take place, while others attempt to move their belongings and settle in. Many carry a burden far heavier than their material possessions – their experiences of living under so-called Islamic State (IS) for two years and anxious thoughts about the future.

Some were kind enough to stop and to give us a glimpse into a reality that only they have witnessed – and one that the rest of the world will only ever know through their words.

Abdullah meets his daughter again after being separated by conflict for over two years. Photo: WFP/Alexandra Murdoch


Abdullah: “When Islamic State took Mosul in 2014, we simply ran. There was gunfire and fighting and chaos. Somehow we became separated and Najah was left behind. I took half of the family and crossed to safety, but when I went back for her, the roads into the city were all blocked. I cannot put into words how I felt at that moment.

It has been two years, two months and seven days since I saw my daughter. I have thought about her every second of every minute of every day since.

Seeing her today, it feels like I have been reborn. It is like I have been thirsty for nearly three years and finally someone has given me a drink.

I tried to protect her from afar. I sent money undercover and even arranged for her to marry someone we knew just so that a member of IS wouldn’t force her into a marriage contract.”

Najah: “I have felt trapped for over two years – unable to go out. As it was just me and my mother, we had to send my five year old brother to the market to get food as he was the only male in the house. The relief I feel to be here with my father is unbelievable.”

Hussain sits surrounded by his worldly possessions. Photo: WFP/Alexandra Murdoch


Sixty-two-year-old Hussain Hamadani, sits surrounded by his worldly possessions at Khazer camp. “This isn’t everything I own," he says. "It is the basics. Some clothes, food and toiletries. We left everything else at home. This is the second time we have had to move, and we lost a lot of our belongings last time. Now we are losing them again.

Gogjali was recently recaptured by Iraqi Security Forces, but fighting was still ongoing so we had no choice but to leave. We were hesitant, but in the end we had to choose between our lives and our belongings.

Life under IS was tragic.

We kept ourselves to ourselves so we didn’t provoke any trouble, but things were difficult. My salary stopped. Both my sons work in the import/export sector but it became impossible to trade, and business dried up.

Fortunately, we had savings, so we were OK. Others ended up begging for food – they couldn’t afford to buy any because it got so expensive. Since begging was forbidden under IS, people were trying to do it discreetly. In the beginning, we helped other relatives that were struggling, but as time went on, we started to worry that we would run out ourselves.”

Sister Fatima and Amira meet through the camp fenee for the first time in two years. Photo: WFP/Alexandra Murdoch

fatima and amira

Fatima: “Getting here was really difficult, we were stopped so many times by the army. We were told to go back, but we know that our area is not safe because they are still fighting there, so we carried on with the whole family.

We just found each other here at the camp one hour ago.

We lived just 50 metres apart in the same village but haven't seen each other properly in two years because we couldn't go out.

It was so hard to live a normal life. I felt desperate, scared and missed my family. Today, I am seeing my sister and mother for the first time in two years, and my mother is meeting her granddaughter for the first time ever.”

Amira: “Life in Gogjali was hard. IS doesn’t allow women to leave the house without wearing full cover, and even then, it didn’t feel safe. We couldn’t call each other as cell phones were forbidden.”

Hikmet and his two sons carry their belongings through the camp. Photo: WFP/ Alexandra Murdoch

Hikmet, Sofian and Qutaiba

We left Gogjali yesterday morningWhen we managed to leave, it felt like Eid – we were so happy.

The first thing I did when I arrived here was shave off the beard I was forced to grow under IS. My wife now finds me handsome again!

The last few years have felt very restricted. My wife, Zainab hasn’t been to the market for two years. I would always do our food shopping because she wasn’t allowed out of the house. And then my work stopped, so we did not have an income. We had to sell two cars just to buy food and the basics for the past year.

The boys had to stop attending school. We had just registered them for classes when we found out that they would be educated under the teachings of IS, which we completely reject. So we decided to keep them home. This upset me the most – these boys are my world.”

WFP has provided ready-to-eat food to more than 196,000 people since October. Photo: WFP/Alexandra Murdoch

Follow @WFP and @WFP_MENA on Twitter for updates on WFP’s response to the Mosul crisis.

You can support those fleeing Mosul and others affected by the conflict in Iraq by donating to the World Food Programme today.

Footnote: Story by Alexandra Murdoch. All photos: WFP/Alexandra Murdoch