Victory in Mosul, but at what cost?

I awoke to news today that Iraqi forces were claiming victory in Mosul. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi arrived in Mosul to personally deliver the message to the world: ISIS had been driven out of the northern Iraqi city that had been the extremist group’s crown jewel.

Victory. Yes. But at tremendous cost. The ancient city of Ninevah will never be the same.

ISIS took hold of Mosul in June, 2014. Thousands of Christians, Yazidis, Turkmen and other minorities fled under threat of forced conversions to the ISIS brand of Islam. Those who remained endured three years of the so-called Islamic State and its brutality and intolerance.

The campaign to oust ISIS began in October 2016. The fighting was brutal. Iraq’s second largest city is left in ruins; many of its ancient sites destroyed by ISIS. That includes the historic al-Nuri mosque with its leaning minaret known as Habda.

Thousands of Iraqis were killed; more than a million people were displaced from their homes.

I was in Iraq last year when the campaign to retake Mosul was still in its early stages. I visited many of the camps set up for IDPs. Internally displaced people. That’s the term used for people who are forced to flee their homes for safety. Really, they are refugees in their homeland, separated from loved ones and the lives they once led.

Here are some of the children I met in the camps.

Yes, there is victory in Mosul. But what does the future look like for these children? They have been torn from the safety of the homes they knew and out of school for many months. Where will they return to? Will they even return?

Look into the eyes of one of these children. Imagine if this was your little boy or girl. Think of these children when you hear the news today. Think of what victory feels like for them.

Read a few of my recent Iraq stories published on CNN.com:

As Iraqi city of Mosul braces for battle with ISIS, its people recall gentler times

The Iraqi women who escaped ISIS but lost everything

Mosul blogger defies ISIS by listening to violinist Itzhak Perlman

Hiding from ISIS: Women fight for survival by staying put

In biblical lands of Iraq, Christianity in peril after ISIS

Voices of Iraq: Minorities on the edge of extinction

Good Morning, Mosul: Pirate radio risks death to fight ISIS on airwaves

In Iraq, thousands of terrorism’s victims go unnamed

 

Migration crisis: People keep dying

The team from MOAS gets ready to rescue migrants who set sail from Libya on a rubber dinghy.
The team from MOAS gets ready to rescue migrants who set sail from Libya on a rubber dinghy.

Almost every day, I receive an email from the International Organization for Migration containing the latest update on migration issues around the world. Many of you may not know that more than 60 million people are on the move, either as refugees fleeing horrendous situations in their homelands or economic migrants seeking a way out of a life of poverty.

Today, the IOM update included a number. Migrant arrivals in Europe via the Mediterranean: 302,149. Deaths at sea: 3,501.

The numbers are higher than they were last year at this time, yet it seems to me that European nations are addressing the crisis in an incremental way that won’t likely lead to a permanent solution.

In July, I spent almost a week with the Migrant Offshore Aid Station, a private rescue outfit started by American millionaire Chris Catrambone and his wife, Regina. They were sickened by what they perceived as a lack of response from governments. They were called to action by Pope Francis who visited the Italian island of Lampedusa, then a hub for migrants, and shamed the rich countries for a lack of action.

Eva, a Nigerian woman, gets some much needed sleep after being rescued at sea.
Eva, a Nigerian woman, gets some much needed sleep after being rescued at sea.

I’ve reported on natural disasters that kill thousands and leave even more in dire conditions. I’ve reported from war zones, where I have seen the worst of humanity unfold before my eyes.

I did not expect I would feel the kind of emotions I did during my days on the Topaz Responder, a ship chartered by MOAS to patrol the Mediterranean with the sole purpose of plucking desperate people from the sea.

In one day, MOAS rescued 366 people. Luckily, everyone had survived. I spoke with many of those on board. Some had traveled for months and experienced the worst physical conditions as well as abuse by human smugglers and Libyan militias. A Nigerian woman, Esther, told me she was right next to her brother  he was shot and killed by gunmen.

Even after those harrowing journeys, refugees and migrants then board flimsy boats to make a long crossing to Europe. Some die of dehydration. Most of the deaths are from drowning and in the winter months, hypothermia.

I thought about the kind of desperation that drives human beings to risk everything for a better life. I can’t fully understand it because I live such a privileged and comfortable life compared to them. But I try hard to report their stories.

Yes, we should be outraged when a photograph of a shell-shocked Syrian boy goes viral on social media. But that’s not enough.

It’s important for those of us who live in rich countries to know the stories of people who were born to poor countries rife with corrupt and callous leaders who do little for their people. It’s important to open our eyes to the suffering of people who endure constant war and conflict.

I encourage everyone to think about how huge the numbers are in the refugee crisis. Think about what it would feel like if you were forced from your home knowing, that you may never see it again. What if you were separated from your mother or father, your husband or wife, your children?

Here’s a link to a few stories I’ve written recently on the crisis, including the one I reported thanks to MOAS.