Sep­a­rated by con­flict, Iraqi chil­dren wait for par­ents

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Adel, 15, hasn’t seen his par­ents for the past nine months, but that was the price to pay to es­cape the bru­tal rule of Is­lamic State group ji­hadists in his north­ern Iraqi home­town. “I miss my fam­ily, nine months is too long,” said the teenager, among hun­dreds of young­sters sep­a­rated from their par­ents be­cause of IS and the months-long bat­tle that has ex­pelled the ji­hadists from Mo­sul, the main city of north­ern Iraq.

Adel re­mem­bers the long trek on foot out of Haw­i­jah-a town in Kirkuk prov­ince that is still held by IS-as he and oth­ers made their way to Iraq’s au­ton­o­mous Kur­dish re­gion. “We walked all night, around 14 hours,” said the teenager. He now lives in a camp for the dis­placed in Debaga re­gion, south­east of Mo­sul, where he has been re­united with one of his broth­ers and some cousins. Adel is not from the area, but the bat­tle for Mo­sul has dis­placed hun­dreds of thou­sands of other civil­ians, many of whom now re­side in camps near Iraq’s sec­ond city. Ac­cord­ing to the UN’s chil­dren agency, UNICEF, more than 1,000 chil­dren un­der the age of 18 have been sep­a­rated from their par­ents. Adel is cared for by the Ter­res des Hommes Italia, a chil­dren’s aid or­ga­ni­za­tion, and is among 17 teenagers be­ing shel­tered by the char­ity, which or­ga­nizes English and com­puter science classes and sports ac­tiv­i­ties. “The teach­ers treat us well. It’s like I’m at home here now,” said Adel.

Trac­ing fam­i­lies

In the com­mon room, boys wear­ing T-shirts took turns to play ping pong or table foot­ball. Oth­ers lay on mat­tresses in the dor­mi­tory next door busy with their mo­bile phones, while in the back­ground Arab mu­sic blared out at full vol­ume. In the kitchen, three teenagers were help­ing the head cook pre­pare the day’s lunch, and they were learn­ing how to bake bread. Six months af­ter Adel fled Haw­i­jah, his par­ents also left for a camp for the dis­placed in Kirkuk prov­ince. “The only way to con­tact them is by phone and some­times on Facebook,” said Adel. He hopes to go visit them af­ter Septem­ber, when he is due to re­sit his school ex­ams af­ter fail­ing at a first at­tempt.

“There are just over 1,000 chil­dren who are sep­a­rated and unac­com­pa­nied,” UNICEF’s Maulid Warfa said af­ter a tour of the Mo­sul area. His visit to east­ern and western Mo­sul came af­ter the Iraq gov­ern­ment de­clared the city “lib­er­ated” from the ji­hadists who over­ran it three years ago.

“Sep­a­rated means they are with rel­a­tives, but not their par­ents. Unac­com­pa­nied means they are all alone, and this group is our top pri­or­ity,” said Warfa. He said UNICEF was work­ing to trace the fam­i­lies. “If we can’t find them, the courts will put them in a state in­sti­tu­tion.”

The UN of­fi­cial said he had met a boy of around seven whose left hand had been badly dam­aged in an ex­plo­sion. “He was clearly very dis­tressed, not talk­ing or in­ter­act­ing, even when we gave him a small ball to play with, he didn’t touch it. We were told his par­ents were killed in the blast,” he said. — AFP


DEBAGA, Iraq: Iraqi youth, who were sep­a­rated from their fam­i­lies dur­ing the fight­ing be­tween Iraqi forces and Is­lamic State (IS) group ji­hadists around the city of Mo­sul, sit in a room at the head­quar­ters of the Ter­res des Hommes Italia, a chil­dren’s aid or­ga­ni­za­tion.

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