The U.N. Refugee agency reports it is stepping up humanitarian aid for thousands of Iraqis who are returning to Mosul in the aftermath of the government’s recapture of the former Islamic State stronghold.
The U.N. refugee agency says the task ahead is mammoth given the scale of destruction, especially in western Mosul. Government figures show some 79,000 people have returned to this battered landscape. The UNHCR says shelter is the most pressing need, given the extensive damage done to the old city during months of urban warfare between government forces and Islamic State.
UNHCR spokesman Andrei Mahecic says mines, unexploded ordnance and other devices pose enormous risks for the residents, especially children. He notes that mine clearance efforts are underway to make the city safe for people to return.
“But, given the magnitude of the problem, clearance work to remove all explosive hazards could take a very long time. Returning families also face challenges in accessing basic services and utilities — accessing water, electricity or fuel in parts of Mosul can be difficult and very expensive,” Mahecic said.
While the battle to retake Mosul is over, Mahecic agrees security and safety cannot be taken for granted. He told VOA that UNHCR has flagged these and other issues of concern with the government regarding the displaced population.
“Addressing the issues of retributions, addressing the reports of revenge attacks, and also the issue of collective punishment is something that we have also seen. The families or relatives of people having relation to alleged or perceived sympathizers, et cetera,” he said.
The Iraqi government reports more than 90 percent of families who had fled east Mosul during the conflict have returned and will need support. Since the destruction is considerably less than in the western part of Mosul, UNHCR says daily life in the east is gradually returning to normal.