Born On The Run: Young Iraqi Mothers Fleeing ISIS Give Birth Anywhere They Can

With the battle for West Mosul still raging, and ISIS increasingly using civilians as human shields as coalition airstrikes continue, many expectant mothers are fleeing for their lives – in some cases even giving birth on the run.

Layla* is just three days old and was born in the ruins of an abandoned house, with shelling and shooting all around. Her 17-year-old mother Rehab* was just days away from her due date when the fighting in her neighborhood got unbearable and forced her and her family to flee in the middle of the night.

Rehab fell repeatedly as they tried to escape and went into labor hours into the journey.

“I went into labor on the road. I was very scared for me and my baby but my mother and another older woman helped me,” said Rehab. “It was very quick, maybe just 15 minutes. We rested for about another 30 minutes and then we started running again.”

The family is now in Hamam Al Alil reception center, the main focal point for those fleeing Mosul, where more than 242,000 have been registered since the offensive began.

Most people are relocated quickly, but with thousands arriving every day and more than 320,000 people displaced since the Mosul offensive began six months ago, families, many with young children, are falling through the gaps.

Save the Children is distributing water, toiletries and newborn kits in the camps and have built and continue to clean latrines in the reception center.

Twenty-day old Lubna* has been in the center for almost two weeks. Her 15-year-old mother Reem* was in labor for more than two days but could not get medical care due to the fighting raging outside. The second she was strong enough, her and her mother Masa* fled with several other members of their family.

“Her delivery was very hard, very hard indeed, but there was nothing we could do because of the fighting. We wanted to leave Mosul,” says Masa.

“My brother has been killed and we wanted to go but Reem was too weak, so we stayed for five days and then we left and walked to safety. Thank God Lubna is healthy but we are very worried about her and that she will get sick in a place like this.”

Marwa*, 5 months, at Hamam al-Alil IDP camp in Iraq. Marwa*s mother Ashna* and her father Salar* fled fighting in Mosul with their six young children, including Marwa*. Marwa* said: "The journey was hard and me and the children were very scared. But all I could think about was how we needed to get to safety and how I needed to keep my children safe – so that drove me and kept me going even though the children were very hungry and they were crying a lot. My older children were able to walk but we had to carry the younger ones in our arms – I carried Marwa*, while my husband carried my son and my uncle my other daughter. Marwa* is sick. Ten days ago she got a high fever and bad diarrhea. We were given medicine but it is not working and then, about two days ago, she got a bad cough that is getting worse. Luckily she sleeps at night, but her diarrhea never stops. It is very difficult to deal with this here. There is no privacy at all. Neither me, nor the baby, have had a shower since we arrived 20 days ago and I have five other young children to look after. We all have to sleep on the floor in the tent with many other families. It is noisy and dirty."
Marwa*, 5 months, at an IDP camp in Iraq. Marwa*s mother Ashna* and her father Salar* fled fighting in Mosul with their six young children.

Save the Children’s Deputy County Director Aram Shakaram says:

“The situation inside the reception center is extremely poor and there is a widespread shortage of food, water and blankets. Whole families sleep on nothing but cardboard, huddling together for warmth at night.

“Very young babies, many just days or weeks old are living in these conditions and their mothers, some who are as young as 15, are not getting the support they need.

“With 325,000 people still displaced since the Mosul offensive began and thousands still fleeing every day, it is imperative that we get more funding to support new mothers and their extremely vulnerable children who are starting their lives off in camps.”

Save the Children provides education and psychosocial support to children displaced from Mosul and our child protection teams work in the reception centers to identify cases needing urgent assistance, like unaccompanied minors.

Since the offensive began, we have distributed 3,740 newborn care packages, which have reached almost 11,500 infants. We have also distributed 7,000 rapid response kits that have reached almost 33,000 people and contain essentials like food, water and toiletries for the newly displaced. In addition we are also working to provide clean drinking water and basic sanitation to tens of thousands of people who have fled from Mosul.

To learn more about our response to the refugee crisis and how you can help, click here.

*Names changed for protection

How to Save the Children of Mosul

November 20, 2016. Qayyarah, Iraq. Children stand in the back of a truck as their family prepares to return home from Qayyarah Jad’ah camp.
Children stand in the back of a truck as their family prepares to return home from Qayyarah Jad’ah camp in Qayyarah, Iraq on Nov. 20, 2016.

                                  Originally published on time.com

The Mosul offensive continues—both militarily and in terms of help for civilians—but it is not too soon to help the region’s children start to recover from years of suffering. As Iraqi forces enter Mosul, they are not only faced with ISIS militants but also up to 1.5 million civilians still trapped, including about 600,000 children, who are growing increasingly desperate. In the short term, safe routes must be established so these families can escape the violence. We risk another Aleppo, where civilians are trapped inside a warzone, if safe passage is not possible.

As thousands of families flee and others are caught in the crossfire or by snipers and landmines, children must urgently be protected. However, in the long run, we will fail Mosul if we are unable to help a whole generation of children recover from the violence, uncertainty and lack of schooling that they have faced in recent years.

Thousands of babies were born in Mosul in 2003 and 2004 as the war in Iraq was taking place and fighting raged in the city. Now in their early teens, these children have lived the vast majority of their lives in a state of uncertainty.

By 2008, when these children should have been starting kindergarten, armed militants were using the city as their strategic center of gravity—a hub for funding and violence. UNICEF reported at least one-third of children in Mosul were out of school. Even as active conflict subsided, it remained a dangerous place to be a child. In December of that year, a bomb detonated outside a primary school as students were leaving for the day, killing three children and injuring 18.

The situation grew even direr in 2014 when ISIS invaded the city—just as children born in 2003 should have been finishing primary school. The group took control of schools, burned textbooks and instituted a new extreme curriculum. Children were to be drilled in lessons on ISIS doctrine. The curriculum was also militarized and encouraged children to fight and learn how to use weapons.

More than one million children who have been living under ISIS in Iraq have either been out of school or forced to learn from an ISIS curriculum. Many parents refused to send their children to school out of fear for their safety and well-being. Other families had to make the difficult decision to flee their homes to escape violence and intimidation and are now living in camps or non-camp settings that don’t always have educational opportunities for young people.

Now, with the offensive to retake Mosul underway, Save the Children staff positioned in nearby camps report meeting families with children who have escaped the fighting and who say their children are getting sick from breathing air filled with smoke from oil wells that ISIS set on fire. Many have already lost loved ones and they are dehydrated and hungry from long journeys made on foot as they flee ISIS-held areas.

Mahmoud, a father we met, recently escaped Shura, south of Mosul. As fighting approached the village, he and his family were taken deeper into ISIS territory, where they were reportedly forcing people to act as human shields. The family escaped and is now in a temporary camp.

“I have four daughters. Before IS the older ones were going to school and loved it,” he said. “When IS took over, the content of the curriculum changed, so we stopped sending them. Every lesson became militarized. Even math lessons—they would teach the children ‘one bullet plus one bullet equals two bullets.’ They’ve now been out of school for two years.”

We know from our work in Iraq and other conflict zones that getting children back into school is absolutely critical. Being in a classroom setting provides a child with a sense of normalcy that they miss during times of conflict or displacement. Trained teachers can help students process the trauma they have experienced, and a quality education can help young people acquire the knowledge, tolerance, and critical thinking skills necessary to help rebuild their country and make a constructive contribution to society.

The government of Iraq and international partners can show their commitment to education in Iraq in four ways:

For those families who have already fled or who are desperately trying to, children need to be provided with quality education and psycho-social support inside camps established for internally displaced people and refugees. Save the Children is establishing temporary learning places in tents in one of the camps where people have fled, but much more is needed.

The Iraqi government should also work with international partners to reopen schools in retaken areas as soon as it is safe to do so. Repairs to schools should be prioritized, and school buildings should only be used for classes, not by the military.

Additionally, special attention needs to be given to children who have been forced to serve as child soldiers. They need extra help to make up for time lost in the classroom, tools to regain their self-confidence, and assistance reducing stigmas that might exist in their communities.

Finally, make sure that all Iraqi children can go to school. Iraq was once a country where more than 90% of children were in education, but it now has about 3.5 million children out of school. Donors must ensure that the UN’s 2016 Humanitarian Response Plan is fully funded—at the moment education has only 40% of the funding it requires.

Securing Mosul is crucial, but unless we include education in the immediate recovery plan, it will be almost impossible to build a prosperous city and region. Children of Mosul have suffered for many years and have missed out on enough of their childhoods. Getting them back into a safe positive school environment is critical to starting the recovery process, giving them hope for the future and breaking the cycle of suffering in Mosul.

We Came Here Last Year as Tourists

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 Karl Schembri, Middle East Regional Media Manager, Save the Children International

Iraq

June 26, 2014

 


I’m walking around Erbil’s city centre with our assessment team as they look around inside motels for displaced Iraqi families in need of help. One family after another, they all tell us how they’re running out of money, having to move out onto the streets with no clue where to go.

Iraq Blog 1

Sufian*, 12, and his sister, Fatima*, 14, in the family's hotel room in Erbil. The family fled the violence in their hometown Tikrit. Photo: Hedinn Halldorsson/Save the Children 

In a small motel tucked in the bazaar just a minute’s walk away from the historic citadel, I meet 12-year-old Sufian*. His parents and two siblings are crammed in a room. A little suitcase lies on the bed as they collect the few belongings they brought with them when they fled from the hellish explosions and gunfire in Tikrit a week ago. His father, clearly distraught, tells me their money has run out and they are now leaving. 

“We came here a year ago as tourists during Eid al Adha,” Sufian tells me. “We know the motel owner; we stayed here last year. He’s been very kind to us and gave us slashed prices, but my father has no more money left. Where will we go? Maybe in the streets, in the parks… there’s no place for us.”

Here is a middle income family who afforded to come as tourists last year, right in the same place where they are now seeking refuge. Sufian himself grasps the bitter irony and goes on to explain to me what it feels like.

“When we travelled as tourists we felt safe, there were policemen at the border and everything was orderly. We came to relax, we were comfortable. It’s not the case as displaced people. We had to flee from explosions, armed men, no security.

“When we came as tourists we got all the things we needed; our clothes and all the stuff you need when you’re travelling. When you’re fleeing you have to escape quickly. We couldn’t bring anything except the clothes we have on us.”

Iraq Blog 2

Sufian *, 12, Fatima *, 14, and their little brother, Kamal*, 6, in the family's hotel room. "Even if it's not safe to go there, I want to avoid ending up on the street", said the children's father. "I tell my little brother stories when he has nightmares during the night", Sufian says. Photo: Hedinn Halldorsson/Save the Children 

Having to flee like that is something Sufian and his family never expected to have to go through. He dreamt of becoming a doctor to help people in need, but now the future is bleak, he doesn’t even know where he will sleep tonight and the tragedy is still sinking in. He misses his friends, his neighborhood, playing football with his mates. He tells me his 6-year-old brother gets nightmares at night, so he consoles him by telling him stories until he sleeps again.

But it’s a nightmare for the entire family, really, as it is for thousands of others fleeing from the raging conflict in Iraq right now. One might say we are all tourists in this fleeting life of ours, but nobody should be forced to flee from home, leaving everything behind, with no idea where to spend the night.

*Names have have been changed to protect identities.

World Humanitarian Day: Unsung Hero Devotes Her Life to Help Syrian Children in Crisis






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Tue Jakobsen, Communications Officer

Save the Children in Iraq

August 19, 2013


Hadeel
is 28 years-old and is from Baghdad. Nine months ago, she moved 280 miles away
from all of her friends and family into the Iraqi desert to work as a Child
Protection Officer for Save the Children. She was the first woman to work in the refugee camp near Al Qaim.   



Hadeel1A well-educated psychologist, Hadeel decided to do
what very few others do: leave career, friends and family to live in an
extremely dangerous and inhospitable place haunted by extreme temperatures and
reoccurring sandstorms.

“I am passionate about child protection. I was offered
better jobs back in Baghdad where I have my friends and family, but I wanted to
work in child protection and so I ended up here.”

Part of Hadeel’s compassion comes from her own
experience as a refugee.

“My family fled to Syria when the war started here in
Iraq in 2003, and we stayed there for one year. While living as a refugee in
Syria, I experienced firsthand how children fleeing their home need special
care and attention. And I feel that I owe it back to the Syrian people to
support them the best I can, since they supported my family and my people 10
years ago.”

 

The
forgotten refugees

West of Baghdad, the Iraqi province of Al Anbar
stretches for hundreds of miles along the border with Syria and Jordan to the
west and Saudi Arabia to the south. It is mostly desert and, while it is Iraq’s
biggest province, it is also the least populated. The harsh climate proves hard
to live in for even the most rugged Iraqis.

The road from Baghdad follows the Euphrates Riber, and
after a seven-hour drive you reach the small border town of Al Qaim. Here, close
to the Syrian border, lies a refugee camp unknown by the most of the world: Al
Obeidy. Compared to the well-known Za’atari camp in Jordan, one of the world’s
largest, this is a small camp.

Yet more than 2,000 Syrians – more than half of these
children – have sought refuge here. Dwarfed by other refugee camps across the
region, Al Obeidy does not receive the attention and support needed; competition
for attention is hard when around two million refugees have now fled Syria, and
many millions more are still trapped inside the country.

“The families in the camp fled the insecurity of Syria
but ended up in Al Qaim where the security isn’t good either. Many left family
members behind and haven’t been able to get in contact with them since. And now
that the border is closed there is little hope for separated families to
reunite any time soon,” says Hadeel.

 

“The
situation is very dire”

Save the Children is one of the few aid agencies
working in Al Obeidy camp, and Hadeel has worked with Save the Children there for
the last nine months.

“When I arrived in the camp for the first time, the
conditions were really bad. It was very unclean and with a distinct smell of
trash. We had serious concerns about the impact on the children’s health. And
at the same time there was a complete lack of services for the refugees in the
camp.”

Over the months she has been able to follow closely how
the conditions in the camp have developed.

“To be quite honest, the situation hasn’t changed much
since I arrived. We recently relocated to a new camp and that should have
improved the refugee’s situation, but the tents here are in a very bad
condition. They have been affected by the bad weather in winter and now they
are contaminated to a degree where children get respiratory diseases from
living in them. The situation is very dire.”

 

Help
children cope with life in camp

The conflict has had a terrible impact on Syria’s
children. Reports estimate that at least 7,000 children have already lost their
lives. And stories of the abuses of children such as torture, sexual violence,
beatings and threats are everywhere. The children have a great need for
psycho-social support, says Hadeel.

“The children are very affected by what they have been
through, though they don’t want to talk about their experiences. But from their
behavior and their paintings it is clear that they have experienced things no
child should. I remember one girl who came to our Child-friendly space. For the
first couple of months all she drew were pictures of war and weapons destroying
her home.”

How do you work with children affected by war? The
recipe, Hadeel describes, is to try to restore a sense of normality in the
children’s lives.

“We have a wide range of activities in the Child-friendly
Spaces. Some are designed to keep the children physically active. Some are
focused on getting the children to express their emotions through painting,
drawing or storytelling. Others are focused on information-sharing and
skill-building: learning about basic child rights or joining a computer
training class. And we also try to raise the children’s awareness on issues
like hygiene and health. We try to restore as many parts of the children’s
normal life as possible while at the same time provide the specialized support
they need.”

Hadeel has no doubt that the activities help the
children adapt to life in the camp.  

“We had a five-year-old girl who attended our
Child-friendly Space but didn’t really participate and kept to herself. She was
very sad and had clearly been harmed by her experiences in Syria. The
facilitators then put a lot of effort in getting her involved while giving her
room to draw by herself. And slowly, after two months, she started to open up.
Now she participates in the activities and builds relationships with the other
children.”

While Save the Children’s programs and activities are focused
on children, the impact reaches the entire family. Parents don’t have to worry
about their children’s safety while they are at the Child-friendly Space. That
gives them some much needed time to solve practical problems.

“We get positive response from the parents. Their own
capacity is stretched and their biggest concern is their children, so it is
also a refuge for them to send the children to a safe space. We had one family
with four children attending activities, who, during a focus group interview,
expressed their gratitude that we could host their children”.

 

“We are
really making a difference”

Despite Hadeel’s commitment, she admits that it hasn’t
been easy to move to Al Qaim, and that she does pay a price for her devotion.
Hadeel3

“It wasn’t an easy decision. My father supported my
move. He has always support me what ever I did. But my mother and my sisters
asked me not to go. They are concerned by the security situation out here, and
none of them have been able to visit me out here because of the unsafe travel
through Anbar.”

And life far from home can be a challenge even though
you are still in your own country.

“This isn’t an easy place to live. Life here is just
so different from in Baghdad. The community here is also very different. For
example, I didn’t were a head scarf back in Baghdad, but here I have to. We
depend on community support so it is important to follow the local customs. But
my work with the children means a lot, and we are really making a difference.
So it is definitely worth it.”

Hadeel finds some light in the children’s dreams for
the future.

“I am especially happy about the long lasting impact
we make on the children. Many of the children tell us that when they return to
Syria they want to work as teachers or as children’s activity facilitators and
volunteers with Save the Children. It is touching and gives a sense of hope for
the future,” says Hadeel.

 

In Iraq, the Unseen Refugees of the Syria Crisis



Francine-blog-headFrancine Uenuma, Director Media Relations and
Communications

Domiz, Iraq

June 2013



Children are everywhere in Domiz camp, a hot patch of land
near the Syrian border in northern Iraq where more than 40,000 people eke out
their existence in a space designed for only a quarter of that number. We saw
them before we even arrived, running alongside our car, selling gum, trying to
earn a little money.

This crowded camp, which is where many families have taken
refuge from the violence that has wreaked havoc on homes, livelihoods and lives
in Syria, is now where many families find themselves in limbo – unable to
return to Syria, trying to find odd jobs and pass the weeks and months. The
Kurdistan Regional Government manages the camp, which has schools and a small
medical clinic, but the number of refugees strains those resources and many
live in flimsy plastic tarps that blow over when a windstorm comes through.
There are mounds of garbage, and sewage runs down walkways in between the
makeshift dwellings.

RS37631_1076102-Stop-the-Killing-Photo
Sebastian Meyer/Getty Images for Save the Children
It’s hard for me to imagine the shock those who dwell here
have experienced – leaving their homes, jobs, communities and schools – and
beginning a new life of uncertainty and daily hardship. That is reality for 1.5
million Syrians, a number that is hard to fathom when you speak to just one
family and hear what have been through. And what is most difficult to grasp is
that these families are – in a relative sense – the fortunate ones, with
millions more inside Syria subject to violence, food shortages and a medical
and educational infrastructure that has become unrecognizable in more than two
years of fighting.

On the day of our visit, Aras, a father of six children, is
out in the midday sun trying to rebuild the tent where he and his wife and 6
children live. Two of them are in the hospital, he says, so we meet Rebaz*, 5,
Govand, 4, Harem 3, and little Shalha, 1. Health problems – rashes, diarrhea –
are a problem here, and expected to worsen as the summer months grow more
unrelentingly hot. We go inside their tent, where the boys play amidst the pots
and pans and cans that make up a small makeshift kitchen in one corner.

The children who live in tents nearby are curious – as we take
photos we show them their images on our phones and camera. Several boys pose
repeatedly, smiling proudly at each new image of themselves, or with their
friends or siblings.

Aras tells us the tent they now call home was damaged in a strong
windstorm that completely wiped out nearby  families’ homes. His is still
standing, but many families have had to rely on the good graces of others as
they wait for a replacement tent, their dwellings reduced to a pile of plastic
by the strong winds.

Several people gather to talk to us, one man emphatically
says what he needs for his family – “no car, no money, just home — one home!”

Before leaving we walk through rows of tents of the newer
arrivals – those who came later to a camp built originally for only 10,000. We
meet two-month-old baby Banaz*, who was born one month
before her family fled the violence in Syria, completing the last leg of their
journey into Iraq on foot with what belongings they could carry. They don’t
know what the future holds for them – right now life is about the day to day,
trying to find work, cleaning and maintaining their small sliver of space, and
raising their small infant and two-year-old daughter in a world of painful
unknowns.

 

*Names have been changed for privacy

 

How You Can Help

Your gift to Save the Children’s Syria Children in Crisis Fund
will help provide immediate and on-going support to displaced Syrian children
and their family members in refugee camps throughout the region. Your funds
will help us provide comprehensive relief to these families that includes
shelter, health, child protection and educational needs.  Donate Here.

With No Way to Return Home, Syrian Refugees in Iraq Live in Limbo

The boy standing in the cement block doorway called to us to take his picture.  We couldn’t resist his bright smile in the bleak and dust of the refugee camp.  We went over and snapped a few shots and he looked at them proudly on our cell phones.  His uncle, who was hovering close by, came to talk with us and soon we were sitting in their one-room cinderblock home, sipping warm Coca-Cola in tiny glasses.  Nawzad’s father, uncle and mother told us how the two families had ended up here in Domiz, a refugee camp near the border with Syria. They picked up and left when there was no longer a village, no house and no jobs to keep them there – no home to stay for.

 

Carolyn talks to Syrian refugees in the Domiz Refugee Camp
Photo Credit: Sebastian Meyer/Getty Images
Read Article

“I can’t buy them blankets with my own money.”

December 3, 2012


Nada_syria

Nadia, 30, has four young children. Zahra, her youngest, is only
five months old. Her other two daughters, Hela and Shahad,
have begun coughing. They are living in a bare building in northern
Lebanon, where they have taken refuge after fleeing growing
violence in Syria. With winter approaching, the mother-of-four
increasingly fears for her children’s health and wellbeing.

“We left – they were bombing our village. We didn’t dare to sleep in our houses from the
bombing. Our neighbour’s house was destroyed, to the ground. We ran away and came here.
We ran here, me and my little children. I was pregnant. Now it has been eight months. We are
living in the cold. It’s very cold here. We haven’t any blankets, or even food for the baby.

Life is hard here. It’s cold. We are scared of hunger. We are scared because we don’t have
blankets. We are scared of the winter … all of my children are sick.

Looking down at baby Zahra in her arms, Nadia says, “This is my daughter. She’s sick. She’s five
months old and shouldn’t be in such a room. It’s very cold. There’s nothing to warm us. We
don’t have a heating system. We don’t have fire or gas.
If we want to heat something up, we
make a fire outside. If I want to wash the baby, we have to make a fire, heat the water outside
and then wash her.

“We weren’t like this in our country. It wasn’t our choice to leave. We are forced to live here.  It’s not our decision. We want to go back to our country as soon as possible, because our
circumstances were better there. We were happy and comfortable in our country. But we
were forced to come here. We were too scared. That is why we came here. We ran away
from bombing.”

But finding respite from the conflict has not ensured a safe existence for Nadia or her
children. With no income and next to no money, Nadia isn’t able to buy her children food,
milk, winter clothes or blankets to keep them warm and healthy. “I can’t buy them blankets
with my own money. I feel I am weak because I can’t offer anything for my daughter
. She’s five
months old – she doesn’t know anything. i’m the one who is supposed to offer her what she
needs. She’s only five months old, she’s still so young.”

___________________________________

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