Donia Al watanErbil – This past week IOM, the UN Migration Agency, sent emergency teams from its Erbil, Iraq, mission to provide front-line non-food item (NFI) assistance to an informal settlement of internally displaced persons (IDPs). The settlers are principally nomadic herders fleeing ISIL’s last remaining major stronghold in Iraq: Tal Afar.
Following the fall of Mosul, 255 families – mostly shepherds with their livestock – fled from villages on the outskirts of Tal Afar to establish an informal camp in Badoush, about 40 kilometres from Tal Afar city, in Iraq’s Ninewa governorate.
They escaped about six weeks ago.
Iraqi forces are preparing to launch a military offensive on Tal Afar – a city originally of 200,000 people in Iraq’s northern Nineveh province, before ISIL took control of it in mid-2014. Although the militant group has lost nearly two-thirds of the territory it once controlled, it remains active in some of the country’s northern and western areas.
Tal Afar city, with the largest Turkmen population in the country (a mix of Sunni Turkmen and Shia Arabs), is located about 60 kilometres west of Mosul.
According to reports from Tal Afar, where an estimated 10,000 to 40,000 people remain in the city, ISIL is preventing people from escaping, as it did in West Mosul, by shooting at families attempting to flee.
Those managing to flee the city, mostly women, children and the elderly, must take a meandering route to avoid being spotted by ISIL, mostly arriving in the late hours of the night.
In the early months of the east Mosul operations, IOM was the largest out-of-camp NFI responder, delivering rapid assistance to newly retaken villages, both independently and as part of inter-agency first-line response.
Five trucks and a group of 12 IOM staffers, from the Rapid Assessment Response Team (RART), visited the Badoush settlement to distribute much-needed NFI assistance to the displaced population, which IOM estimates is about 1,530 individuals. IOM is the first NFI partner to assist here.
The five items in the mobile kits included mattresses, cool boxes, mats, jerry cans and summer sheets for the pastoralists who opted not to go into camps.
“Their situation is dire,” said one member of the IOM team who visited the area. “They have very little and have only received small amounts of assistance.”
“Most are stuck there because they want to remain with their livestock and cannot go back to their farms. But if their situation does not improve, many say they will have to sell their herds and go to the camps and emergency sites.”
The Mosul response demonstrated that even though a high proportion of IDPs opt for out-of-camp shelter, IOM’s response can be delayed unless the areas are easily accessible.
Although displacements are ongoing from Tal Afar district, a mass exodus akin to that in West Mosul is not expected. Currently, IDPs are being picked up by the military and moved directly to camp locations.
IOM hopes to give priority to these informal sites south of Tel Afar, where limited assistance is available due to the hard-to-reach nature of the location.
IOM is also looking to prioritize out-of-camp response in hard-to-reach areas for the upcoming Tal Afar operations.
Given the prevalence of pastoralism in the Tal Afar area, there is an increasing trend of families refusing to enter campsites, simply because they want to stay with their livestock. Taking this into consideration, IOM’s Emergency Unit has coordinated with humanitarian partners and requested to be called upon for first line response for out-of-camp populations whose movements are generally more restricted, with no markets available in their locations.
IOM Iraq Chief of Mission Thomas Lothar Weiss added: “Out-of-camp populations in Iraq are amongst the most vulnerable. It is imperative that civilians fleeing from the conflict are able to receive humanitarian assistance and that agencies are provided with access to hard-to-reach areas such as the outskirts of Tal Afar.”
Since the start of the operations to retake Mosul in October 2016, IOM’s emergency units and rapid assessment teams have distributed 51,237 NFI kits in Ninewa, 23,808 fuel vouchers, 3,220 sealing-off kits to improve shelter conditions and 6,362 clothing vouchers.
IOM also provided 1,765 emergency shelter kits and 500 bread ovens.
Since June 2016, the organization’s Emergency Unit, responding to the Mosul Corridor in Iraq, has also distributed 62,678 NFI kits, 38,438 kerosene vouchers and fuel assistance kits, 14,415 sealing off-kits and 5,988 emergency shelter kits.
According to IOM’s Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM), an estimated 837,900 individuals (139,650 families) remain displaced while 239,544 IDPs have now returned, with an estimated 80 per cent going back to their districts of origin in East Mosul.
Of all the IDPs currently displaced by the Mosul operations, over 351,978 (or 42 per cent) live in camps and emergency sites around Mosul. IOM’s emergency sites host nearly 22 per cent of these individuals.
IOM’s DTM actively monitors displacement across Iraq.