Refugees begin returning to liberated Mosul

World Today

The war between ISIL and the Iraqi government has displaced hundreds of thousands of people. Now that the government has declared victory in the battle for Mosul, refugees are slowly returning to their homes.

CGTN’s Toby Muse has one family’s story.
Follow Toby Muse on Twitter @tobymuse

Mahmoud Fadel Salah and his family often dream of a faraway place—home.

He is one 700,000 Iraqis fleeing this war. He lives in a camp for internally displaced people about three hours from Mosul. Mahmoud fled his home in Mosul when fighting between Iraqi forces and ISIL came to his neighborhood.

“It’s hard here,” Mahmoud said. “They try to help us. We need air conditioning.”

His 15-year old daughter, Sabrine, was going to school when ISIL arrived. The young girl who wanted to be an artist now had to live under ISIL’s brutal rule.

“My worst memories are of seeing the public executions, the beheading and cutting off hands,” she recounted. But she hopes to return home and graduate.

Now that the Iraqi prime minister has declared the city liberated, the slow process of returning home begins.

“For my family, living in a house is much better than living in a tent,” Mahmoud explains. They said goodbye to their neighbors in the tent city. Still, Mahmoud worries about his new life.

“I don’t know how long it will take me to recover my life,” he said. “Maybe I will come back to this tent in two years. I don’t know if I can work there.”

The drive is through the lonely sands of Northern Iraq. These deserts were controlled by ISIL last year. Now, the Iraqi army has checkpoints set up along the highways searching for ISIL fighters.

Mahmoud hasn’t seen his mother for nine months. She’s been living in another displaced camp.

But Mosul shocks Mahmoud as he returns. Imagine if this was your home city.

“These people have been cheated,” his mother claimed, gesturing to the wreckage. “This is not good.”

Even as the government has declared the city liberated, everyone knows that ISIL has undercover fighters living amongst the civilians. They arrived to their neighborhood. They are home. Hellos are said to neighbors.

Mahmoud is one of the lucky ones – his house is still standing and ISIL didn’t leave any explosives behind. Still, there is a lot of work to do.

“Just my house will take months to rebuild,” he laments. “Inside, it’s a mess.”

He goes on. “I’m exhausted. They stole our things from my home. It’s a mess. This is not liberation.” If the Iraqi government cannot help people like Mahmoud, it may have won the battle. And may be losing the war.