Iraq’s Lost Children: Miracles Amid Tragedy

Children from Nineveh Province in a refugee camp in Iraq
Children from Nineveh Province in a refugee camp in Iraq (Photo: DELIL SOULEIMAN/AFP/Getty Images)

The occupation of Mosul, Iraq by ISIS exposed the city’s children not only to the brutal rule of the terror group, but to the destruction and chaos that accompanied the liberation.

It is estimated that in the last three years, the number of lost children between the ages of one month and 17 years exceeds 15,000. The war did not discriminate between children from Sunni, Shiite, Christian, Yazidi and Shabak famlies.

At present, one in four children in Iraq lives in poverty and four million are in need of assistance, according to UNICEF, the U.N.’s child welfare agency.

Hundreds of children who survived became orphaned, not knowing what happened to their families. Most of the children were discovered alone — lost in the desert, on the roads or under wreckage of houses. They were saved by civil defense groups.

The Iraqi government set up shelters for these children, hoping their families had survived.

Hundreds were reunited with their families with the help of the Counterterrorism Office in Mosul. Those are the stories with happy endings, like that of Um Mohammed, an Iraqi mother of four.

With her house under bombardment by artillery attacks during the liberation of Mosul, Um Mohammed was forced to flee with her children. Although the house was totally destroyed, she managed to get out with three of the children. She could hear the fourth child, a baby of just two months crying in the wreckage. She looked desperately but couldn’t find him.

Those cries became a recurring nightmare for her, until three months later, when the child was five months old, she found him one day at an orphanage. He had changed so much in those months  she was unsure if the child she had found was really her son. A DNA test positively identified him.

Another story with a happy ending was that of Reyam Hassan, a five-year-old girl who became separated from her family.

Her father tells the moving story, “During the terrible wave of fighting to wrest control of the city from ISIS, people were forced to flee for their lives from one side of Mosul to the other. The only means of escape was to cross the Tigris River in small boats.

“The boats were horribly overcrowded, but that was our only option. Horrific battles were going on all around us. We got on one of these boats, then ISIS began shooting at us. Reyam became hysterical and flung herself into the Tigris. I couldn’t get the others to go back and save her, and I knew I couldn’t do it myself as I don’t swim well at all.

“Two months after Mosul was liberated, I got a phone call from a friend telling me there were unidentified children in one of the shelters. Even though I had lost all hope of finding Reyam, I decided to go there. As I was wandering through the shelter, I saw Reyam sitting in a corner with other lost children.

“She saw me and started screaming, ‘Baba, Baba!’ (Father, Father) Afterwards, I bowed down on my knees and thanked the Lord for this great miracle. I also adopted a child that Reyam had fallen in love with in the shelter.”

Reyam’s father later found out that Reyan was rescued by special forces patrolling the river who saw the girl and pulled her out seconds before she would have drowned.

 

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RM
Ran Meir
Ran Meir is Clarion Project's Arab affairs analyst.

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