Faz3a, a local NGO mobilising young people to help Mosul refugees
Baghdad - When Iraqi government troops began their operation to retake Mosul six months ago, more than 1 million people were estimated to be living in the city, Iraq’s second largest.
More than 300,000 people have been displaced by the fighting and the United Nations estimates about 400,000 are trapped in ISIS-held neighbourhoods in western Mosul.
Mosul citizens Mostapha Khatib, Mohamad Bassel and Abdallah Abdel Aziz anticipated the massive humanitarian crisis the operation would cause. They set up Faz3a to mobilise young volunteers from the embattled city to help refugees seeking shelter in camps near Mosul.
“Our organisation was the first to enter the eastern part of Mosul during the ongoing battles,” Khatib said in a telephone conversation. “We worked in coordination with Mosul District Council and with the support of residents who devoted human and material resources.”
Faz3a volunteers provided front-line emergency aid, including food, toiletries, heaters, blankets and medical care, in recently liberated communities in and around Mosul. Their assistance helped save hundreds of refugees who had to flee the fighting.
Faz3a operates solely on private donations offered mainly by Mosul’s inhabitants.
“The situation is very tragic. It is actually beyond imagination. It is even worse for those who are still under the grip of ISIS. Hunger and a shortage of drinking water and medication caused the death of tens of people. Those who have tried to escape were exposed to sniper fire from ISIS positions,” Khatib said.
More than 750 volunteers — all young people from Mosul — have swelled the ranks of Faz3a in recent months.
“They are all educated youths who were keen on having a humanitarian role since the very first days of the operation. They enrolled in big numbers and made sure that assistance is distributed equally to all refugees and those in need for it,” Khatib said.
He said at least 23 volunteers have been killed or wounded, mostly by ISIS militants with mortars and booby-trapped drones, while assisting the refugees.
“We incurred human losses though from the very beginning of military operations, we have been working closely with the Iraqi forces to ensure the safety of our workers,” Khatib said.
“However, the risks and challenges reinforced our determination to restore life inside the liberated areas of Mosul regardless of the sacrifices. Most volunteers feel they have an obligation and a duty towards the city in which they were born and grew up.”
Khatib pointed out that Faz3a had helped rehabilitate schools and government institutions, notably medical facilities to ensure the continuation of services to the population.
“Assisting refugee families, especially those who are still within ISIS territory, necessitates international as well as local efforts. International support is also needed to rebuild Mosul and breathe new life into it,” he said.
Iraqi forces began the assault on ISIS-held Mosul in October, after months of preparation and build-up. In January, Iraq declared the eastern half of Mosul — the Tigris River divides the city into eastern and western sectors — “fully liberated.” Iraqi government forces are battling to take the city’s western half.
Humanitarian groups have repeatedly warned of increased civilian casualties in western Mosul due to the higher density of the population there and the increased reliance on air strikes and artillery. Faced with their toughest fight against ISIS yet, Iraqi and coalition forces have increasingly turned to air strikes and artillery to clear and hold territory in Mosul’s west.
Mosul District Council Member Maan al-Rashidi commended Faz3a’s work, which he described as “outstanding” and “beyond expectations.”
“What this organisation has been able to offer for the refugees of Mosul is amazing,” Rashidi said. “It is a novice young group, relying solely on personal efforts. They are not backed by any party or faction and they do not propagate any political ideas; nonetheless, they were able to make a big difference for a large number of people in a record time.”
Rashidi complained about the “extremely poor” support extended by the federal government to the beleaguered city. “It is insignificant compared to the scope of destruction. We had to resort to local humanitarian groups, including Faz3a, who heeded our appeal without hesitation or any claim in return,” he said.
The official contended, however, that voluntary work cannot replace or substitute the state in rebuilding and rehabilitating devastated areas. He said those needed concerted efforts from international organisations.
Khatib also criticised the government, which he blasted for “leaving the refugees out in the wild” without help.
“Conditions in refugee camps are appalling,” he said. “These people lack the minimum living requirements. Dealing with the humanitarian crisis requires international efforts and the urgent intervention of both the local and federal authorities.”