Iraq: Escaping Islamic State — Mohammed’s Story

‘I can now afford to buy food for my family while helping other people’

Mohammed fled Ramadi, Iraq, early last year after being forced to live under Islamic State rule. Photo: WFP/Alexandra Murdoch

Mohammed spent a year and a half living under so-called Islamic State (IS) rule after they captured his home city of Ramadi, Iraq, in 2014. Finally managing to flee in early 2015, Mohammed and his family survived on food from the World Food Programme. Now he is helping to manage WFP’s warehouses. This is Mohammed’s story.

“When Islamic State took my city in 2014, rockets fell like rain. I still have the scars from the shrapnel that caught me on my shoulder and left arm. It was a terrifying time and all I could think about was the safety of my family.

Life was turned upside-down overnight. I was afraid all the time. They monitored everything we were doing — what we ate, what we wore. The use of cell phones was punishable by death.

Over time, there was very little food. We lived without food, water and electricity for so long. At one time, I remember a can of baby milk cost US$40 and no one could afford to buy it. It felt like they wanted us to return to a life in the Stone Age where we survived solely on bread, dates and water. One of my relatives managed to smuggle food in from the desert just so we were able to eat — but he risked his life to bring it. Life was a living hell.

It was a two-week journey from Ramadi once we had escaped, including walking for 8 kilometres on foot, eating nothing but the odd piece of bread and some dates. My children were dehydrated and my wife was still breastfeeding our youngest so it was a difficult time. I am so grateful for the food the World Food Programme gave us when we arrived at the camp. It felt like someone cared. The children were so happy to get the biscuits, dates and canned food.

Teams unload vegetable oil and other supplies at a WFP warehouse. Photo: WFP/ Alexandra Murdoch

Now I work in the WFP warehouse, offloading the trucks and stocking the warehouse with food so it is ready to go to families who find themselves in the situation we were in. It is the least I can do, and it means I can now afford to buy food for my family while helping other people who have had to flee conflict too. I see myself in them. They desperately need this food.

Left: A camp for displaced people in northern Iraq, July 2016. The camp has received waves of displacement in the past two years, as spikes in conflict trigger families to flee. Right: Displaced families in northern Iraq have very little but the assistance they receive from humanitarian organizations. Photos: WFP/Mohammed Al Bahbahani 

Before Islamic State captured my home, I woke up every day with hope. My family were safe, I had work, we were happy. Now I am just waiting until it is safe to return.”

Mohammed told his story to WFP Communications Officer Alexandra Murdoch.

Mohammed works for Mercy Hands, who are responsible for managing the WFP food warehouses.

Donors supporting WFP food assistance operations in Iraq include (in alphabetical order): Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, the European Commission, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Iraq, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Republic of Korea, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), the United Kingdom, the United States and private donors.

Learn more about WFP’s work in Iraq.

World Food Programme Insight

Insight by The World Food Programme

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