Tears come to Buthina’s eyes as she tells her family’s story, and for a few moments she covers her face with her hands. The Iraqi Red Crescent Society psychosocial volunteer reaches out and touches her shoulder, and the two women talk quietly for a while.
Red Crescent volunteers travel to the relief camps around Mosul every day, providing emotional support to people like Buthina and her family who are experiencing the trauma of war and displacement.
“When we tried to escape the first time, they took my husband away,” says Buthina. “For three days we did not know if he was alive or dead.” Her voice is now soft and steady as she explains how ISIS fighters held him captive in a room with others from her village who had been caught attempting to flee Mosul.
On the other side of the tent where they sit, Buthina’s husband, Shuker, demonstrates how he was tied up, hunching over on the canvas floor, his arms pulled severely behind his back. The father-of-three says he had expected to die in the small room, but as the fighting came closer the captives were suddenly released, and ordered to leave their village and move further into the centre of Mosul.
The United Nations has reported that ISIS has been kidnapping civilians and ordering people to leave their villages or be punished. People who have escaped the city talk of going hungry due to severe food shortages and lost livelihoods. Families are forced to drink unsafe water from wells; their children unable to attend school and suffering from severe emotional trauma.
“There is death all around,” says Shuker. “There is no food, no water, no income.” He says they kept their children at home to keep them safe. “We kept them from school because of what they would learn; we kept them safe from the ideas of ISIS.”
When Shuker returned to his house, the family decided that they needed to try to escape as soon as possible. That night, terrified of what may come next, they joined their extended family on the dangerous journey out of Mosul. A relative’s four-door sedan carried 19 people through across the front lines and on to one of the camps staffed by Iraqi Red Crescent Society teams.
The tent that is now their home is bare, with a few mattresses and neatly folded blankets on the canvas floor. A new heater sits in the corner, and boxes of emergency relief supplies, water bottles, and a kitchen set are stacked against the back wall.
“We lost everything when we escaped,” Burthina says. “But we know we are safe now. The children are going to school again. Our family and neighbours are here with us. Possessions are not important.”