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Iraqis fleeing war find no place at crowded camps

Displaced Iraqi people who fled their homes during a battle between Iraqi forces and Islamic State militants, arrive at a checkpoint to be transfer to Hammam al-Alil camp, in Mosul, Iraq, on Monday. (Reuters)

MOSUL: Mohammed Ali and his family, carrying all their worldly possessions in a few bags, had been on the road for 18 hours since fleeing their home in a Daesh-held area of Mosul.
They hoped to find shelter at a camp. So far, they have had no luck.
“We tried at Hammam Al-Alil camp,” about 35 km south of Mosul, the 50-year-old said, flanked by 20 relatives including sons and grand nephews and nieces. “It was full.”
A bus had brought them from there and unloaded them a few hundred meters from a Kurdish peshmerga checkpoint east of Mosul and on the way to the sprawling Khazer and Hasan Sham camps, which are also crowded.
“Hopefully we can get to Khazer. We just need to get through the checkpoint,” Ali said. Ali’s story is becoming a familiar one.
Displaced Iraqis are streaming out of western Mosul at a quickening pace as fighting intensifies in the city. They are arriving at camps to find there is no room, forced to get back onto buses or hire taxis to reach other areas.
Some head for new camps being built to try to cope with the exodus, but with poor living conditions, many western Mosul residents make instead for the east side of the city, which was recaptured from Daesh in January, to stay with relatives or find shelter in half-finished buildings.
Hammam Al-Alil has become the main transit point for the Mosul displaced. At the current camp’s main entrance, hundreds of Iraqis wait in the mud and cold, crouching by small fires, using porta cabin toilets and asking which buses will take them onward.
Taxi drivers tout for business, many shouting “Mosul, Mosul!” — to take people back to the eastern side of the city.
Eastern Mosul is a preferable destination for many who have relatives there.
“In the rubble there is nothing. If there is water maybe we will go back. We are heading to the east we have a family. We cannot stay in those camps,” Bushra Mohammed Ali, who left the west with his sister and two daughters, said on Monday.
Outside the Nabi Yunus shrine, 30-year-old Waddah, who had fled the Daesh-held Old City in the west with his two wives, two children and his brother’s family, worked shoveling debris into a skip.
“I came to stay with my cousin in Sumer district,” he said.
“It is not ideal — we are 15 people cramming into his home and into an out-house — but it is better than being in the cold, crowded camps,” Waddah said.
More than anything Waddah was relieved to have escaped Daesh but he was worried for family still trapped inside the west. He gave only his first name for fear they would be identified.
“My brother is there. He tries to call when he can, using a phone from his cellar,” he said. Daesh militants threaten those caught using mobile phones with death.
“I am scared for my family still inside. They do not call every day because they cannot. Every time they do not, I worry that something has happened to them.” 

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