Fleeing Mosul: Photographing the Flow of Iraqi Refugees

Five photographers document the flow of refugees escaping the Iraqi city
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Five photographers document the flow of refugees

 

By ALICE GABRINER and OLIVIER LAURENT

Each day, the scenes repeat themselves: hundreds of refugees flee their homes, taking to the roads, many of them holding white flags as they look for safety. Since Oct. 16, when Iraqi forces launched a large-scale offensive on Mosul to dislodge ISIS fighters, more than a hundred villages have been liberated. But the battle for Mosul continues. Members of the Iraqi Special Operations Forces have entered the city, and the battle has intensified with ISIS militants staging new attacks as they cling to the few neighborhoods they still hold.

Over the last six weeks, five photographers—Maria Turchenkova, Laurent Van der Stockt, Jan Grarup, Ivor Prickett and Emin Ozmen—have documented Iraq’s push against ISIS and the resulting flow of refugees. They speak to TIME LightBox.

Laurent Van der Stockt

“War has practically been a constant in Iraq since 1980. The war between Iraq and Iran from 1980 to 1988 killed between 500,000 and 1.2 million people. The international coalition’s airstrikes in 1991 killed 120,000 people, and the 12-year embargo that followed killed between 800,000 and 1.5 million people. We estimate—and the numbers are not clear but they show the extent of the tragedy—that the First Civil War from 2006 to 2008 made between 80,000 and 300,000 victims. How many deaths will the so-called Second Civil War and the war against Daesh leave in their wake?

Its form, its shape has never ceased to evolve and to have a growing international impact, especially on neighboring countries, leading to the birth of the Islamic State in 2014 and the increase in jihadist attacks abroad.

Field work is irreplaceable to comprehend what’s happening. The territories controlled by ISIS were inaccessible for journalists before Iraqi forces, aided by the coalition’s airstrikes, took back the Anbar province and cities like Ramadi in 2015. Their residents have become a source of information on the reality of life under ISIS occupation. And that’s what’s been happening in Mosul for the past month.” Laurent Van der Stockt is a Belgian photojournalist based in Paris.

From Basakhrah to Tarbazawah, October 24th, 2016 Isof 1 and 3 (Golden Division) leave at the dawn of the rear baseof Basakhrah to attack Tarbazawah, a village North of Bartella occupied by Daesh. Approaching Bartella, the Major Salam orders a deployment of the convoy to counter the snipers and RPG from positions of Daesh Air strike of the coalition on an objective in hundred meters of the column. In the early morning of that day, intelligence services had indicated to the Major Salam Hussein that children and kamikaze adults could try to approach to them asking for protection but beeing kamikaze with explosive belts. The head of the convoy, which has just entered Tarbazawah, nevertheless lets approach men, women and children, who were under shelling and shootings since the dawn, and put them under cover while shootings of machine-guns were ceaseless to counter the risks of snipers of Daesh. Photo Laurent van der Stockt / Getty Image De Basakhrah à Tarbazawah, le 24 octobre 2016 Isof 1 et 3 (Golden Division) sont partis à l'aube de la base arrière de Basakhrah pour attaquer Tarbazawah, un village occupé par Daesh au Nord de Bartella. Les renseignements avaient indiqué au Major Salam Hussein que des enfants et des adultes kamikazes pourraient feindre de se diriger vers eux en demandant protection. La tête du convoi, qui vient d'entrer dans Tarbazawah, laisse malgré tout approcher des hommes des femmes et des enfants, sous les bombes et les tirs depuis l'aube, et va les mettre à l'abri pendant le feu incessant des mitrailleuses des Humvees pour contrer les risques de snipers de Daesh. Photo Laurent Van der Stockt
Laurent Van Der Stockt—Getty ImagesCivilians seek protection from heavy fighting between Iraqi forces and ISIS snipers on the outskirts of Mosul, Iraq, Oct. 24, 2016.
Laurent Van Der Stockt—Getty ImagesFamilies displaced from their homes in eastern Mosul pass by Iraqi Special Operations Forces on Nov. 2, 2016.
Laurent Van Der Stockt—Getty ImagesA soldier with Iraqi Special Operations Forces stands in an ISIS trench near the body of a dead fighter, Nov. 2, 2016.
The Battle for Mosul
Laurent Van Der Stockt—Getty ImagesAn Iraqi gunner sits inside a Humvee on the frontlines of Mosul, the night following an ISIS attack, where 17 members of the Iraqi Special Operations Forces were killed, Oct. 29, 2016.
Laurent Van Der Stockt—Getty ImagesA young girl cries as Iraqis Special Operations Forces search houses in Cogjali, an eastern district of Mosul, looking for ISIS members, equipment and evidence, Nov. 2, 2016.

Jan Grarup

“What’s happening in Mosul far from over. It’s a humanitarian disaster in the making. The Iraqi special forces are still far from having control and ISIS combatants are stronger and better prepared than expected. All of the civilians in the city live with the fact that they are both under siege and held hostage. And winter is coming. We, in the western world, live in a very fast-paced society—yesterday’s news is easily forgotten. But for the people in Mosul, this catastrophe is still in its early days and will get worse.

I have been covering conflicts and wars all over the world for the last 27 years. I keep getting surprised about how children have the most amazing ability to adapt and adjust and survive in war zones; how they can find joy and laughter even though mortars and artillery are incoming. They survive. It constantly reminds me that this is their reality and we should honor their ability to stay sane among all this madness.” Jan Grarup is a Danish photojournalist.

A young woman in grief, cries at her mother grave in the outskirts of the city Qayyara, south of Mosul. She was killed in an airstrike by coalition forces as they backed up Iraqi forces retaking the city from IS. Before leaving the city, IS destroyed all the tombstones in the graveyard. The dense plumes of smoke are emanating from multiple sites about 30 miles (50 km) south of Mosul. The fires were deliberately set by ISIS militants before abandoning the city. The smoke has been persistent over the past three months, blotting out the sun hours before nightfall and creating major health issue for mainly the children in the area.
Jan Grarup—LaifA woman cries at the grave of her mother who was killed during coalition airstrikes on the outskirts of Qayyarah, south of Mosul, November 2016. Before leaving the city, ISIS destroyed all the tombstones in the graveyard.
A small boy watches one of the estimated 19 oil wells which has been set at fire by IS in the city Qayyara, south of Mosul. The dense plumes of smoke are emanating from multiple sites about 30 miles (50 km) south of Mosul. The fires were deliberately set by ISIS militants before abandoning the city. The smoke has been persistent over the past three months, blotting out the sun hours before nightfall and creating major health issue for mainly the children in the area.
Jan Grarup—LaifA small boy watches one of the estimated 19 oil wells which has been set on fire by ISIS in the city Qayyarah, south of Mosul, The fires were deliberately set by ISIS militants before abandoning the city. The smoke has been persistent, blotting out the sun hours before nightfall and creating major health issues, mainly for the children in the area, November 2016.
The black sheep in the city Qayyara, south of Mosul. The dense plumes of smoke are emanating from multiple sites about 30 miles (50 km) south of Mosul. The fires were deliberately set by ISIS militants before abandoning the city. The smoke has been persistent over the past three months, blotting out the sun hours before nightfall and creating major health issue for mainly the children in the area.
Jan Grarup—LaifSheep blackened by the soot from oil well fires walk in the streets of Qayyarah. Dense plumes of smoke emanate from multiple sites about 30 miles (50 km) south of Mosul. November 2016
Jan Grarup—Laif
Jan Grarup—LaifA child displaced by the fighting in Northern Iraq, November 2016.
three boys at the football pitch in the city Qayyara, south of Mosul. The dense plumes of smoke are emanating from multiple sites about 30 miles (50 km) south of Mosul. The fires were deliberately set by ISIS militants before abandoning the city. The smoke has been persistent over the past three months, blotting out the sun hours before nightfall and creating major health issue for mainly the children in the area.
Jan Grarup—LaifThree boys in the city of Qayyarah, south of Mosul, November 2016.
Khazer refugee camp between Mosul and Erbil is growing by the thousands everyday as refugees get out of Mosul and the fierce fighting between IS and Iraqi forces.
Jan Grarup—LaifThe Khazer refugee camp between Mosul and Erbil expands by the thousands everyday as displaced people escape fierce fighting between ISIS and Iraqi forces in Mosul, November 2016.

Ivor Prickett

“There were a few days at the beginning of November when up to 10,000 people fled their homes on the outskirts of Mosul as Iraqi forces first reached the city limits.

We watched as caravans of hundreds of cars snaked along the main road that connects Mosul to the Kurdish controlled territory in the East where many of the camps for Internally Displaced People are. They were packed into every available vehicle, including army trucks, which were ferrying people back and forth. That was a rather modern-day twist on what felt like a biblical moment and was both truly surreal but also very difficult to photograph.

When you are confronted by a such a scene it’s almost impossible to know where to point your camera.” Ivor Prickett is an Irish photojournalist.

Iraq. Recently displaced Iraqis reach safety
Ivor Prickett—UNHCRIraqi IDPs (internally displaced people ) from fighting in the village of Shora, south of Mosul, reach an Iraqi army checkpoint on the northern outskirts of Qayyarah, which was liberated from ISIS but is still engulfed in thick black smoke from oil wells set ablaze by the retreating militants. IDP’s who reach Qayyarah are then taken to the Ja’dah IDP camp, October 2016.
Ivor Prickett—UNHCR
Ivor Prickett—UNHCRLeft: 41-year-old Jassam hauls a wooden cart with his families belongings after fleeing their home earlier that morning. Right: A man collapses out of an Iraqi special forces Humvee holding the body of his young brother who was killed moments earlier in an ISIS mortar attack. November 2016.
Ivor Prickett—UNHCR
Ivor Prickett—UNHCRLeft: A woman injured in the war-torn East of Mosul arrives at a first-aid station. Even when people decide to flee their homes in Mosul they must traverse areas that are still within mortar range of nearby militants and are regularly shelled causing civilian casualties. Right: Diane, 13, lies in a hospital bed waiting for surgery after a mortar slammed into her family’s kitchen in Mosul, killing her mother and wounding two siblings. “There was no reason for her to get injured, she is innocent,” said Diane’s father Qassim, 46, sitting by her bedside, November 2016
Iraq. Recently displaced Iraqis reach safety
Ivor Prickett—UNHCRIraqi IDPs (internally displaced people) from the Eastern districts of Mosul warm themselves beside a fire at the Hasansham camp in Kurdish-controlled Iraq, November 2016.

Emin Ozmen

“When I arrived in Qayyarah [a city on the west bank of the Tigris, 20 miles south of Mosul], as sandstorms and smoke covered the skies, there was a line of hundreds of refugees in trucks and cars. It was one of the arrival points for displaced people who had succeeded in escaping Mosul, the city under fire for weeks now.

Later, as I was heading to the frontline, crossing dozens of checkpoints, I found the Tuebe village near the Tigris river. The sounds of combat were near and boats were arriving with many people on them. I boarded one of the boats to get to the other side, and when we got near the bank, people were shouting for us to take them. Most of them were women and children. Some had white flags in their hands. We took the women and babies first and crossed the river again.

The journey had been long for them. One family told me they had been on the road for 22 days, crossing mountains, sleeping in fields in the cold dark night. ‘We had nothing but fear with us,’ they said.” Emin Ozmen is a Turkish photojournalist represented by Agence Le Journal.

 

MOSUL BATTLE
Emin Ozmen—LeJournalPeople wait near the village of Nemrud, Iraq to cross the Tigris river, as they flee fighting between the Iraqi army and Islamic State militants, November 2016.
MOSUL BATTLE
Emin Omen—LeJournalCivilians cross the Tigris River by small boats near the village of Tuebe, southeast of Mosul, November 2016.
MOSUL BATTLE
Emin Ozmen—LeJournalIraqi army soldiers provide security for the people who cross the Tigris River by small boats, as they flee fighting between Iraqi army and Islamic State militants. According to the U.N., more than 40,000 people have been displaced since the begining of the operation to retake Mosul from ISIS control, November, 2016.
MOSUL BATTLE
Emin Omen—LeJournalA family, displaced by fighting in Mosul, waits to be registered by Iraqi military after crossing the Tigris, November 2016.

Maria Turchenkova

“The military operation to recapture Mosul is only the beginning of the story. Now I’m mostly focused on the destiny of the civilians after ISIS, on what is happening to people after they fled to the Iraqi-controlled territory. But what’s next? How does it feel to live under terror and, after escaping it, being treated by people as supporters of terrorists? What’s the process of social rehabilitation and psychological recovery of those who lived under ISIS for more than two years. It’s a painful question, it brings a lot of fear and anger.

They are afraid to leave, afraid of being accused, afraid of the unknown destiny. So they stay, whole families with kids and old people, they run from one house to another, looking for a safer corner.

When I entered a house somewhere between the Saddam and Tahrir neighborhoods of Mosul, I met Zainab and Murtadha. Murtadha had been injured the day before when a mortar fell on his family’s house. The whole family of 11 people had fled from ISIS territory and, after crossing the frontline, they had settled in the first empty house as they didn’t want to leave the city for a refugee camp. The moment I arrived, the mortars were falling nearby; the terrifying sound of gunfire could be heard around the corner. Zainad, a 10-year-old girl, was calm, sitting in the morning light next to her frightened cousin, Murtadha, caressing the scratches on his hands, smiling at him. With this small gesture, she was sending so much love to him, as if there was no fight around, as if they hadn’t seen terror and death, as if they had ever been in Mosul. She’s the bravest person I’ve met.” Maria Turchenkova is a Russian photographer.

A boy looks out from the rooftop of his house as an oil well burns right next to it in Qayyarah, a town about 60 km south of Mosul. The town fell to ISIS in June 2014 and was recaptured by the Iraqi forces in August 2016, while leaving Qayyarah ISIS burned the oil wells in and around the city.
Maria TurchenkovaA boy looks out from the rooftop of his house as smoke from an oil well fire burns nearby in Qayyarah, south of Mosul. The town fell to ISIS in June 2014 and was recaptured by the Iraqi forces in August 2016. While leaving Qayyarah, ISIS burned the oil wells in and around the city, October 2016.
Maria Turchenkova
Maria TurchenkovaMembers of a local militia near Qayyarah, south of Mosul, October 2016. Militia members raise an old Iraqi flag, which was used during the rule of Saddam Hussein.
Zainab (age, 10) checks the scratches at the hands of her cousin Murtadha (age, 12), who was injured when a mortar fall at their house in Mosul, while a soldier of ISOF sits in the house where they stay next to the frontline.With their families they moved to another house in a different area of the city, which nowadays became a battlefield as the Iraqi military forces progress in offensive against IS Mosul, Iraq.
Maria TurchenkovaZainab, age 10, checks wounds on the hands of her cousin, 12-year-old Murtadha, who was injured when a mortar fell on their home in Mosul. A soldier with Iraqi Special Operations Forces sits with them. Though their families moved to a safer neighborhood, they have found themselves once again on the frontline as the Iraqi military offensive against ISIS has advanced, November 2016.

 

The pipelines at the oilfield in Qayyarah, which were used by ISIS for two years since 2014.
Maria TurchenkovaAn oilfield in Qayyarah, Iraq which was under ISIS control for two years and has now been retaken by Iraqi forces, November 2016.

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