UN Fears New Wave of Displacement in Iraq

Iraqi families flee east Mosul through the recently liberated Mosul University complex.Iraqi families flee east Mosul through the recently liberated Mosul University complex.

The United Nations refugee agency and its partners are coordinating plans to respond to a potential mass displacement of Iraqis from western Mosul, the latest battleground the Iraqi forces are seeking to retake from the self-styled Islamic State terrorist group.

“As many as 250,000 Iraqis could be displaced from their homes with the anticipated escalation of conflict in densely-populated western Mosul,” Matthew Saltmarsh, a spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, told reporters in Geneva, UN News Center reported.

The military operations to oust IS began on October 17 last year in eastern Mosul, which, according to UN agencies on the ground, is now under the government control.

Saltmarsh said UNHCR has seven camps completed and two under construction. UNHCR is currently able to provide some 11,000 families, or 66,000 people, with shelter as part of the Mosul response, a figure which should expand to 20,000 families.

The refugee agency continues to seek additional land for new camps, reception and transit areas, to assist people closer to Mosul.

By the end of March, it is anticipated that the government of Iraq, working with UNHCR and its partners, could potentially host 41,155 families, or 246,930 people, in camps and emergency sites.

Some 161,178 people have been displaced from Mosul and surrounding areas since the military offensive began in October, but nearly 30,000 of them have returned to their places of origin.

Returnees are keen to resume their lives and told UNHCR that the reopening of schools and government offices was a factor in their decision to return. In some areas, security and the lack of food and water remain a concern. 

Some returnees continue to rely on emergency relief items, including kerosene, which they received while in camps.

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