Rebuilding a family

The tent is mostly bare, except for the eleven people inside. Um Mohammed opens the entrance flap, trying unsuccessfully to coax a breeze inside to move some of the stifling air.

She sits on the floor surrounded by her ten children. Until two months ago, there would have only been nine to gather around her. Her eldest, twelve year old Mohammed, had to flee Mosul by himself for his own safety.

“I tried to escape 4 times,” he recounts. “The last time, Daesh put a knife to my neck because they wanted to kill me but my mother cried and begged them not to. After that, my mom told me I had to leave because ISIL was recruiting boys my age and making them go fight for them.”

The threat of being forcibly recruited to fight made escaping even more imperative. There was no one to protect Mohammed from being coerced into fighting. His father, a tomato truck driver, had been shot while making a delivery. “Early one morning, my cousin and I went at dawn to this place where people gathered to flee Mosul. While we were waiting, a shepherd saw us and started to shout ‘They’re escaping!’ and gunmen began shooting at us.

“We made it to a checkpoint where the Iraqi army was waiting, but we were really upset because our families were still in Mosul. I couldn’t sleep because I was thinking about them.”

Um Mohammed’s side of the story reflects the deeper worries of a mother for her children.

“Daesh threatened my son, so I wanted him to escape. We managed to get him to the one area of the city where you can flee, and after that I didn’t hear anything from him for three months. When I managed to escape with my other children. It was hard, the road was muddy, and my children were hungry and crying. It was really hard for me to see them suffering like that.”

Once the family arrived in Hasansham camp, they started searching for Mohammed. They ended up being 115 kilometers apart.

“My uncle was able to call me and told me that my mom had escaped and was in Hasansham camp. I was in Jeddah camp. So I called my mom, and she contacted (UNICEF’s partner) TDH.”

Terre des Hommes (TDH) is an Italian NGO that works with UNICEF on child protection and family reunification in many of the camps for displaced people in northern Iraq. Child protection activities in Hasansham U3 camp are funded by UN OCHA.

“When I saw him again for the first time, I couldn’t believe my eyes.” Those eyes now hold a sheen of tears as she looks over at Mohammed — a quick verification that he is really with her, unharmed, in the tent.

Though this family is back together, some wounds will take longer to heal.

“I don’t want to go back to Mosul. There’s nothing there,” Um Mohammed says vehemently. “I don’t even want to see it again — my children were starving. “Nothing I can say will make me feel better. Even if Daesh were wiped off the face of the earth, my husband isn’t coming back. My children’s future has been taken, and our home is destroyed. Nothing I can say will bring any of that back.”

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