HASSAN SHAMS CAMP, KURDISH IRAQ —
"They took my father for only a mobile phone," said 11-year-old Hamad before bursting into tears. The crowd of adults in a quiet corner of the refugee camp all knew what he meant without asking: Islamic State militants arrested his father for owning a phone. Later in their family tent, his mother, Umm Hamad, tells VOA the story of her husband's kidnapping and her flight from Mosul.
It was a hot night, so we were sleeping on the roof of our house when they came. It was around midnight four months ago. They climbed the wall and jumped on the roof, carrying pistols, AK-47s and other weapons.
I saw four Islamic State militants, but I don't know how many more there were. One grabbed Ikram, my four-and-a-half-year-old daughter, and held a pistol to her head.
"Where is your father?" he shouted at her. Another grabbed my oldest son, Mohammad, who is 12, and threw him off the roof.
Then they saw Ahmed, my husband, and handcuffed him and shoved him down the stairs. Ahmed is not his real name. I don't want to use his name, just in case he is still alive.
Parents say children at camps surrounding Mosul are traumatized, and often have little access to health care, Hassan Shams, Kurdish Iraq, Jan. 10, 2017. (H. Murdock/VOA)
I wasn't wearing a veil because it was the middle of the night, but I pulled a scarf over my head. One man yanked on my hair and said, "You are disgusting, sleeping with that man. He is a traitor."
Mobile phones are forbidden by IS, and they already knew we had one. They thought Ahmed was using it to contact his brother in the Iraqi army. They thought he was passing information to the army that would help them fight IS. He was.
"When you go to your relatives in the Iraqi army, tell them we are coming to cut off their heads," a militant shouted.
Another man grabbed my children. I lunged and bit him. He punched me in the stomach. I was a month-and-a-half pregnant. I lost the baby.
From the roof, the children and I could see them beating and whipping Ahmed for a long time. I could see his nose was broken. He was bleeding, and he looked close to death. He was moaning and an IS militant called out from the roof: "Tell him to shut up. I have the authority to kill him now if he doesn't be quiet."
Then they took him away. All of my six children saw this. Please, ask little Ikram "Where is your father?" Even she knows.
Families continue to flee IS-controlled areas in and around Mosul. This group is shown at a camp in Khazir, Kurdish Iraq, Jan. 10, 2017. The International Organization for Migration says 140,000 people have been displaced since the offensive to re-take Mosul from IS militants began in October. (H. Murdock/VOA)
When they left with Ahmed, they told me not to even open my front door until noon the next day.
"Don't ever go looking for him or we will arrest you, as well," they told me as they left.
A week later, when the IS patrols were no longer surrounding my house, I snuck out at 3 a.m. with the children and fled through the cemetery to another part of Mosul.
But we were not safe there either. One neighbor told me, "Be careful, I think they are coming to take your son."
Officials expect that a million people could be displaced by the battle for Mosul by the war's end. In October, new camps were empty but now those and others are being filled nearly as fast as they are built, Hassan Shams, Kurdish Iraq, Jan. 10, 2017. (H. Murdock/VOA)
We ran away again to my family outside the city, in another area controlled by IS.
IS would not arrest my son there, but my family did not want to take care of my children. They said the children were my husband's family's responsibility. I didn't know what to do. No one had jobs or money. There wasn't enough food to feed the children.
My husband's family had all fled IS two-and-a-half years ago because they are all connected to the Iraqi army. To get to them, I'd have to escape IS territory alone with six small children.
I stayed with my family for two months, making paste with flour and water so the children would have something to eat.
Children in camp pass time playing with kites given to them by Kurdish peshmerga soldiers in Hassan Shams, Kurdish Iraq, Jan. 10, 2017. (H. Murdock/VOA)
Two weeks after the Iraqi army recaptured my family's town, I ran away again. I was afraid IS would come back, and I needed to go someplace where I could find food.
I still want to join my husband's family, but they are at a different camp. We can't move there because IS stole our identifications. We can't go elsewhere because they stole all of our money. Before Ahmed was taken, we had $2,300 and some gold. When we arrived here two weeks ago, all we had was the clothes we were wearing. But it was raining, and even the clothes were ruined.
I know we are safe here in this camp, but still, I'm scared. I cannot sleep. We can never go back to Mosul. I am alone raising six children in a tent with nothing. What should I do?