Abu Ahmad wasn’t sure his children were going to make it.
Fighting back tears, the father of six told Circa from his tent in Khazer Camp, a site housing displaced Iraqis, why he and his family fled Mosul.
“The planes came to bomb us, and eventually a bomb fell in the garden of the house. I took off the family quickly and left,” he said.
Parents like Abu Ahmad face an impossible choice: stay in western Mosul and risk being caught up in the fighting, or flee the city and risk IEDs, mortar fire and snipers to try to make it out. Some civilians, like Abu Ahmad, will walk for hours before making it to the relative safety of a camp.
In October, Iraqi security forces, Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, Sunni Arab tribesman and the U.S.-led coalition, launched an operation to take back Mosul from ISIS, a city the group has held since June 2014.
For the past seven months, ISIS has fought a street-by-street battle to hold on to its last remaining stronghold in the country. Following the successful recapture of eastern Mosul in January, civilians have slowly begun to return home.
"We say that life like this will go indefinitely."
But the effort to take back the western portion of the city has proven more difficult, in part because narrow, zigzagging roads are hard for trucks and armored vehicles to pass through.
Iraqi officials say that part of the operation could wrap up within the month, but families like Abu Ahmad’s aren’t so sure.
The operation has created an exodus of displaced Iraqis. The latest estimates from the United Nation’s refugee agency suggest as many as 630,000 civilians have fled the city for camps or to stay with family and friends.
Some 25 miles outside of Mosul, Khazer Camp houses the latest group of displaced Iraqis. Families we spoke to lamented a lack of basic services and pleaded with us to help them.
“Food is not enough,” one Iraqi father said. “I have 10 people in my family. They give us the same ration as for family with 2 people. Does that seem reasonable?”
As summer approaches, the U.N. is warning of another threat to Mosul's displaced: rising temperatures. Health workers say they've seen an increase in diarrhea and dehydration among new arrivals to the camps.
Without adequate funding, IOM, the U.N. migration agency, says it won't be able to meet everyone's needs. So far, the agency has only 33 percent of the required $28.83 million it says it needs to provide basic necessities, such as water coolers, rechargeable fans and summer bed linens.
But for now, families like Abu Ahmad's will take this minimalist existence over the alternative.
"[In Mosul], we barely lived. There is nothing else to say."