Out of Mosul, into limbo: The refugees fleeing ISIS

Story highlights

  • Refugees tell of running, crawling to avoid ISIS fighters' bullets
  • Camp stretched to its limits as hundreds flee Mosul, head to safety

Mosul, Iraq (CNN)Dunya is pale and exhausted.

It is less than 12 hours since the mother-of-three fled Mosul under the cover of darkness and away from the prying eyes of ISIS fighters.
"With the protection of God, we fled between two checkpoints," Dunya told CNN.
    "After we passed them [ISIS] they noticed us and yelled, 'Stop! Stop!' But we kept going and soon they started shooting at us. So we would crawl a little then run a little until we got out."
    Dunya talks to CNN's Ben Wedeman at the Khazer refugee camp.
    Dunya was one of an estimated 600 people who arrived in five buses and two trucks at a camp near eastern Mosul Wednesday afternoon.
    Family members who had arrived days earlier greeted Dunya with tears of relief. "May God take revenge on ISIS," one female relative cried as she kissed each of Dunya's children.
    Buses take refugees to the camp, just 20km outside of the city.
    Hours of heavy rain had turned the ground to mud and left the youngest arrivals cold and miserable.
    Overwhelmed and confused, parents they tried to figure out the entry process at the camp, while simultaneously trying to comfort their crying children, and keep track of their bundled belongings.
    Despite the bleak surroundings, most were grateful just to be alive, even if it meant trading the comforts of home for a barren tent.

    Refugee Limbo

    Between 700 and 1,000 people arrive daily from the embattled city of Mosul to the stretch of UN-run refugee camps just 20 kilometers east of the city's outskirts.
    There the transition begins -- out of the hell of life under fire in Mosul and into a life of limbo as a refugee.
    Refugees head to the camp where they live in tents provided by the UN.
    First, women and children are separated from the men so that each can undergo security screenings. Iraqi security officials are wary that ISIS militants may melt into the civilian population pouring out of the city.
    "It is a natural worry. There are 50,000 people here who all lived under ISIS for three years," camp manager Rizgar Obeid said.
    "But so far there has been no problem. The security forces have total control of the situation."
    Shelter, food and water are provided, but refugees must wait in line to collect supplies.
    The families are then separated by gender, before boarding buses where aid workers record the names, ages, and identification numbers of each individual.
    After a 30-minute drive, they reach Khazer camp. One by one, families are called upon for registration.
    Men go first before relief officials assign each family a tent and give them a ration card.
    There is no school for children in the camp, and little for them to do.
    The camp provides much needed safety, shelter, food, water and basic health care, but little else.
    There is no school for the children, no organized activities, just a monotonous expanse of tents, gravel and mud.

    Last Scraps

    Hala fled to the camp six weeks ago with her husband and five children after ISIS began using their home as a sniper position.
    "We would be sitting at home and the ISIS fighters would be on our rooftop," she said. "We were worried the coalition planes would bomb our home and mistake us for ISIS."
    Hala's daughter on her way to fetch fresh water.
    The Iraqi military has driven the terror group out of the family's neighborhood of Samah on the eastern edge of the city, but ISIS mortar rounds and rockets still slam into the area.
    "It's cold in the tent but we will hang on," Hala said. "We will stay here. It is better than ISIS in Mosul. The most important thing is the safety of my family and children."
    Hundreds spend their day lining up for supplies; it is cold, and people's patience is wearing thin.
    For others, the bleak existence is taking its toll.
    When a man showed up with a bag of jackets, a mad scramble ensued. Tens of children descended upon him, screaming and shouting, pushing each other into the mud.
    Fuel is a precious commodity within the camp.
    Temperatures have dropped, patience has worn thin, and little can be done to control the raw desperation of the small crowd.
    Many here arrived with only the clothing on their back, and every extra scrap is worth fighting for.