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UN Prepares for Mass Displacement of Iraqis as Battle Looms to Retake Mosul

  • Lisa Schlein

FILE - Displaced families, who fled from Islamic State violence in Mosul, sit at a refugee camp in Iraq, Oct. 22, 2014.

FILE - Displaced families, who fled from Islamic State violence in Mosul, sit at a refugee camp in Iraq, Oct. 22, 2014.

The anticipated Iraqi military offensive on Mosul could trigger one of the largest man-made disasters in many years, displacing more than one million Iraqi civilians, the U.N. refugee agency warned.

UNHCR representative in Iraq, Bruno Geddo, says his agency is planning to help at least 750,000 people who will be in need of shelter, food, water and other assistance due to the impeding battle, expected to begin as soon as next month, but most probably by the end of the year.

FILE - Women and children stand in line for food at Dibaga camp for internally displaced civilians in Iraq, Aug. 7, 2016.

FILE - Women and children stand in line for food at Dibaga camp for internally displaced civilians in Iraq, Aug. 7, 2016.

He says the UNHCR is in the process of establishing camps, but is constrained by the lack of suitable land on which to set up tents, construct latrines, and put in the necessary pipes, fittings and other equipment needed to house people.

"The assumption is that these people will not be taken too far from their villages,” Geddo said. “The people taken there may remain there for a shorter period of time. Once the village is cleared and stabilized, they will return."

The UNHCR is particularly concerned about the safety and protection of civilians fleeing Mosul, Geddo says, adding that Iraqi civilians could get caught in a calamitous situation if IS militants decide to make a last stand to keep hold of the city.

“There is that risk that civilians may be used as human shields,” he warned.

Preparations to assist potentially hundreds of thousands of displaced Iraqis are hampered by a lack of funds. While the operation is expected to cost $196 million, Geddo says the UNHCR has received only $63 million, or 33 percent of what it needs.

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