Aid agencies in Iraq on alert for Mosul

  • 03/11/2016
Iraqi refugees have begun reaching displacement camps after fleeing Mosul (Getty)
Iraqi refugees have begun reaching displacement camps after fleeing Mosul (Getty)

Aid agencies say families who have fled Mosul and surrounding towns are starting to reach displacement camps away from the fighting, as Iraqi forces press on with an offensive to retake Islamic State's last major stronghold in Iraq.

The battle that started on October 17 with air and ground support from a US-led coalition is shaping up as the largest in Iraq since the US-led invasion of 2003.

Iraqi forces are battling Islamic State fighters on the eastern edge of Mosul as the campaign entered a new phase of urban warfare.

The United Nations has said the Mosul offensive could trigger a humanitarian crisis and a possible refugee exodus if the civilians inside in Mosul seek to escape, with up to one million people fleeing in a worst-case scenario.

"People are starting to arrive now from the small towns around Mosul," Joe Cropp of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"We've been aware that this has been coming up and the preparations have been going on for two months," he said in a phone interview from northern Iraq.

IFRC said many people were arriving with only the clothes they were wearing and those who reached Khazer camp, east of Mosul, said they had to walk through the night.

"We were so worried the children would cry out during the night and we would be discovered," IFRC quoted one of the mothers as saying.

Thousands more people are expected to arrive in the coming days and weeks as fighting around Mosul intensifies, IFRC said. Throughout the country, some 10 million Iraqis are in need of aid.

"Local communities across the country are sharing the responsibility, taking in millions of displaced people. But even with the greatest will in the world they cannot accommodate a million more," Gyula Kadar, IFRC operations manager, said in a statement.

The International Organisation for Migration said nearly 21,000 people have been displaced since the start of the campaign, excluding thousands of villagers taken into Mosul by retreating jihadists who used them as human shields.