Traumatised and out of school, the child victims of the Battle of Mosul

Mosul Children
Malak, 4, waits in line during an aid distribution in eastern Mosul (UNICEF / Khuzaie)

Barriers to education, Children in conflicts, Education Cannot Wait, Education in emergencies, Refugees and internally displaced people, Right to education, Safe schools, Safe Schools Declaration

Theirworld writer Billy Briggs has been to Iraq to witness the effect the six-month battle has had on children and the efforts to get them back into education.

Exhausted children sat looking dazed in the sun at a roadside as desperate families were told the camp was full and they would have to go to another one around 25 miles away.

They were on the outskirts of Mosul, the devastated Iraqi city where Islamic State is fighting Iraqi forces.

They had managed to escape the carnage in the west of the city and carried plastic bags with the few possessions they’d manage to bring. 

They wanted to go to a camp for IDPs (internally displaced persons) in Kurdish-controlled territory called Al Khazer but it was full due to thousands of new incomers arriving from Mosul.

Among the IDPs at the roadside were four young children from one family – including a girl called Saad, who was wearing a white dress with a red pattern. 

Mosul Refugee Children

Children displaced from villages near Mosul to Maquq in Ninewa Governorate (UNICEF / Anmar)

She told us her mother “died of burning”. Her father Nassatt appeared shortly afterwards and explained that his wife Jinan died after an airstrike in west Mosul two weeks ago.

Nassatt has six children to look after now – two were with his brother, four were with him. 

We asked what conditions were like in west Mosul.

“Unfortunately it’s very badly damaged,” he replied. “Everything is damaged as you see on the TV, destroyed houses and homes…it’s a very, very difficult situation right now and people are trying to escape any way.” 

As a bus arrived to take people to another camp, we wished him good luck. Nassatt smiled and said: “Inshallah.” God willing.

The Battle of Mosul has been raging for six months now and it could be many more months before ISIL is finally defeated.

Meanwhile, the future remains grim for the children of Mosul who have suffered greatly under ISIL rule in the city since 2014.

Many of them have been traumatised after witnessing horrific acts by the terror group and tens of thousands have been denied education.

At this juncture, tens of thousands of children trapped in west Mosul will continue to miss out on schooling.

Some schools in the east of Mosul have reopened but the security situation remains dangerous due to ISIL sleeper cells who have shaved off their beards and hidden among the population.

There’s also the problem of unexploded bombs, snipers and booby traps – but the Iraqis are trying to return to some sort of normality. 

Elsewhere, the authorities are doing their utmost to provide schooling for IDPs.

Save the Children has been helping thousands of Iraqi children in the region and explained the impact of the Battle of Mosul so far.

Bhanu Bhatnagar of Save The Children said: “Since the offensive began in west Mosul in mid-February, we’ve seen the fiercest fighting in the city so far and a surge in displacement. 

“According to government figures, nearly 275,000 people have been displaced from western Mosul so far and more are anticipated as the fighting reaches the densely populated Old City. 

Mosul Children 2

Children play in the child friendly space set up by Save the Children in Daquq IDP camp (Save The Children)

“Newly displaced families are in significantly worse physical and psychosocial conditions that previously seen. 

“Many of these children have not been able to attend school for over three years and families are desperate to get their children back into school.”   He added that Save the Children is working with families in Hammam al Alil and other camps around Ninewa.

“In Hammam al Alil, we are providing education for children, with more than 1600 children attending our TLSs (temporary learning centres) in the past week and registration ongoing,” he said.

“We provide education in emergencies as well as teaching and learning materials such as student kits, whiteboards, and markers. We’ve also supported ‘school-in-a-box’ sets for formal schools in Hammam al Alil.”

Since the start of military operations against ISIL in August 2016, more than 90,000 people have fled the town of Hawija.

Many desperate families from the city have taken enormous risks to flee, escaping through minefields and snipers and arriving thirsty, hungry and in need of aid. 

As military operations have intensified, many have gone to Kirkuk where Save the Children educates children.

They include a woman called Ghada. She and her five children are among more than 2000 families sheltering in Daquq camp, near Kirkuk. 

Mosul Children 3

Children participate in an Arabic language class in a temporary learning space (Save The Children)

Ghada has four daughters and a son and they fled Hawija leaving her husband Fadi behind.

Ghada’s eight-year-old daughter Warda was watching a television when an air strike suddenly hit the house. 

Warda’s two elder sisters and three other people died in that attack. Warda survived but, after losing her two sisters, has been experiencing psychological distress and no longer wants to go to school. She is now receiving psychological support.

Her mother Ghada said Warda was in grade one before they fled to Kirkuk and that she and her big sisters did very well in school. 

Now she doesn’t want to go to school, although her psychologist said that she will go when she is ready. 

Mosul Children 1

Children waiting for the morning opening of Save the Children’s temporary learning spaces in Daquq IDP camp (Save The Children)

Ghada said: “Both Warda and Amir go to the CFS (child friendly space). I have noticed a huge positive change in my daughter – she is now a happy child and dreams of being a teacher in the CFS. I too hope to also see a psychologist after witnessing the positive change in my daughter.”

The child friendly spaces at Daquq camp were set up to provide children with safe environments so they can play, socialise and learn.

Save the Children says it plans to put up another CFS within the same camp to accommodate more children.

Meanwhile in Mosul, at least 320 schools have reopened in the east allowing over 258,000 children to get back to learning.

“These neighbourhoods were gripped by violence,” said Peter Hawkins of UNICEF Iraq. 

“Today girls and boys are heading back to class. After the nightmare of the past two years, this is a pivotal moment for the children of Mosul to reclaim their education and their hope for a better future.” 

In the west of the city, however, tens of thousands of terrified children remain trapped as the Battle of Mosul continues.

Save The Children detailed its current education projects in IDP camps.

Ninewa Field Office

Jad’ah camp

  • 415 new children (164 girls, 251 boys)  has been registered in the Temporary Learning Space (TLS).
  • 1988 children have attended the TLS activities incorporated with psychosocial support.
  • Education and MEAL (Monitoring, Evaluation, Accountability and Learning) team have conducted the first round of Quality Learning Environment (QLE) assessment.
  • Two new Temporary Learning Spaces have been opened in Jada 2 camp.
  • Five education facilitators have been trained on management training conduct by CP (child protection) team.  

Airstrip camp

  • 815 new children (381 girls, 424 boys) have been registered in the TLS.
  • 2066 children (894 girls, 1218 boys) have attended TLS activities incorporated with psychosocial support.
  • Education and MEAL teams conducted the first round of QLE assessment.
  • Four education facilitators have been trained on CFS management training conduct by CP team.  

Haj Ali camp

  • 1348 new children (673 girls, 675 boys) have been registered in TLS. 
  • 931 children (412 girls /519 boys) have attended TLS activities incorporated with psychosocial support.
  • Three education facilitators have been trained on CFS management training conducted by CP team. 

Hamam Alil camp

  • 1506 new children (848 girls, 658 boys)  has been registered in the TLS.
  • 2774 children (1525 girls, 1252 boys) have attended the TLS activities incorporated with psychosocial support.
  • Five education facilitators have been trained on CFS management training conduct by CP team.

Kirkuk Field Office

  • 3701 children enrolled in the CFS/TLS (2050 girls, 1653 boys).
  • Recruitment process for 13 facilitators completed and registration process for five Non-Formal Education (NFE) centres ongoing.
  • Bill of Quantity (BoQ) of rehabilitation for three formal schools 
  • 1064 children enrolled in the CFS/TLS in Yahyawa camp (525 girls, 539 boys).

Salah Al Din Office

  • Perform three days of training for 20 teachers in Samarra to run the remedial classes.
  • Transferring 250 desks from Tikrit to the 10 prefabs in Samarra.
  • Activities targeted 318 children in AL Shahamah camp.

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