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At a glance: Syrian Arab Republic

Iraqi families flee Mosul, seeking refuge across the Syrian border

© UNICEF/UN038149/Souliman
Seven-year-old Manar carries her sibling in the Al Hol camp. She and her family fled their home in Ba’ag ditrict in Iraq and arrived in Al Hol camp one month ago.

By Monica Awad

Children and families living in and near the northern Iraq city of Mosul have endured years of violence and suffering. Some of these families have sought refuge at Al Hol camp in the Syrian Arab Republic, where UNICEF has begun interventions in WASH, education and child protection.

DAMASCUS, Syrian Arab Republic, 7 November 2016 – Children in and around the city of Mosul in Iraq have endured extreme suffering for more than two years. Many of them have been forcibly displaced, trapped between fighting lines, or even caught in the crossfire.

“We escaped the violence to protect our ten children,” says Ibtisam.

Ibtisam is one of the 927 Iraqi refugees to recently arrive at Al Hol camp in the Syrian Arab Republic. The camp is located in the north-east of the Hasakeh Governorate, close to the border with Iraq. Since early 2016, around 4,600 Iraqis have come to the camp seeking refuge. 

“We used up all of our savings, and we sold everything to escape the fighting,” says Ibtisam.

The family first moved to Sinjar Mountain in northern Iraq, where they lived for two years. Escaping the hail of bullets for the second time, they sought refuge in Al Hol camp.

The arduous journey to Al Hol camp was traumatizing for Ibtisam and her children, compounding the multiple sufferings they had already endured.

“The trip was torturous, we escaped crossfire,” she says. “We had no food, no water and the children were exhausted.”

© UNICEF/UN038144/Souliman
Ten-year-old Shahed drinks water after filling her jerry can at Al Hol camp in the Syrian Arab Republic. UNICEF is trucking 75,000 litres of water directly to the displaced Iraqi families in the camp.

Harsh realities

Many of these families have suffered brutalities under extremist rule, often without access to basic services like medical care. 

Emergencies are stressful for everyone, but they can be downright horrifying for a mother who cannot find a doctor for her child. “I need medical care for my son,” says Ibtisam, pointing to large mass on her child’s scalp.

Most school-aged children who have arrived at Al Hol camp lost at least two years of education, or have been separated from family members.

“I want to see my brothers, I have not seen them for two years,” says 13-year-old Hamzeh as he describes the dire conditions in Mosul. Hamzeh is one of the many children who have not seen family members for several months, if not years.

© UNICEF/UN038147/Souliman
Ten-year-old Xezlan Heddo carries a jerry can after she filled it with water from a UNICEF-supported water truck in the Al Hol camp, currently hosting more than 4,600 Iraqi refugees. Xezlan and her family fled the violence in the village of Om Diban in Iraq five months ago.

Determined to survive

The displaced Iraqi families in Al Hol camp live in tents, with little insulation from the heat or cold weather. They struggle to survive on basic commodities provided by humanitarian agencies.

“Every child has endured massive suffering in trying to escape the violence,” says Ershad Karim, Chief of UNICEF Field Office in Qamishli. “Uprooted, some of them several times, they face another bitter winter season under harsh conditions.”

In a nearby tent, 30-year-old Rahaf is building a fire to prepare tea for her six children. “We are trying to survive in difficult conditions,” she says. “Life is becoming unbearable.”

Rahaf’s family also fled from Mosul seeking refuge in Al Hol camp. Desperate to make ends meet, Rahaf and her family sold all their personal belongings. They are now among the thousands of families in the camp relying on humanitarian assistance from aid agencies.

With other UN agencies, UNICEF is working to provide children and their families with life-saving water, food and shelter.

“We are working hard to bring back a sense of normalcy to children who are going through horrific experiences,” says Karim.


UNICEF is trucking 75,000 litres of water directly to the refugees in the Al Hol camp on a daily basis. Next week, UNICEF will start distributing 8,000 hygiene kits, 10,000 jerry cans for water storage, and hygiene awareness raising to families. Plans are underway to install six tents to be used as learning centres for the children in the camp.

>>  Learn more about the humanitarian needs of children in Iraq



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