I was sent to Iraq during the battle for Mosul late last year and got a chance to discover the human stories behind the ongoing conflict.
There are moments of utter grief, which I have trouble writing about. There is so much sadness, people arrive totally exhausted, with heart-wrenching accounts of their experiences.
Part of my job as a Media and Communications aid worker for Australian Red Cross is to report on unfolding humanitarian crises. The Mosul mission took place as Iraqi and coalition forces fought to retake the northern city from Islamic State. Almost half of all casualties were civilians.
Red Cross and other aid organisations set up relief camps in strategic locations outside of Mosul, to help civilians fleeing the battle zone.
To date the battle has displaced more than 250,000 people, with thousands more being displaced daily. This is on top of the 3.2 million already displaced by the conflict, in a country where roughly 10 million people are already in serious need of aid.
The camps were crucial to the whole response because these people had to leave their homes. It was important to give them a place to live while the conflict was going on, only 50 to 60 kilometres away.
It’s not just the relative safety and shelter of an official camp that people need. Many fled the city at night, avoiding snipers and landmines, and arrived with nothing but the clothes on their back, needing the very basics just to survive.
In a place that sees such grief and trauma, I take solace in witnessing a family’s joy at reuniting.
There’s a photo of a woman arriving in the camp. It’s a very sombre photo, but when I looked at it I noticed a family reunion — a mother, father and child — embracing in the background. The joy of them being together, it’s a beautiful sight.
When you watch the news you see people fleeing, you see the sadness and victims, but in person, in the camps, you see strength. People doing everything they can to get on with their lives, doing everything they can to keep it all together. That’s what really stays with me.