In January 2017, Sawsan and her family were injured in an air attack as they were fleeing the fighting in Mosul. They now live in Khazer, one of the largest camps for displaced people from Iraq. Since she arrived, Handicap International has provided Sawsan with physiotherapy sessions and psychological support. The organisation is assisting other members of her family too, also injured in the attack.
Sawsan got injured while fleeing the fighting | © E. Fourt/Handicap International
“When the fighting started in our neighbourhood, we immediately fled Mosul,” explains Younes, Sawsan’s father, when we meet the girl’s family.
“We had almost reached safety when we were caught in an attack. My wife, two of my children and my mother-in-law were hit by shrapnel and they rushed us to the nearest hospital. The doctors told me that Sawsan had suffered a fracture in her arm, her little brother needed an operation on his head and my wife, who was pregnant at the time, had lost our baby.”
Sitting on one of the beds donated by Handicap International, Hanan finds it hard to hold back the tears. The day she had her miscarriage was also the day her daughter changed out of all recognition. “Sawsan hasn’t been the same since the accident,” she explains. “She’s completely traumatised. She constantly wipes her body with water and she can’t stand being touched. She gets really frightened whenever anyone raises their voice and she doesn’t want to interact with children her age. He arm will mend, but we’re worried about her mental health now.” Lying in the corner of the tent, Sawsan appears to be lost in her thoughts. Staring blankly, she passes a wet handkerchief over her face. To distract her, Nader, a physiotherapist, initiates some rehabilitation exercises with her.
“Handicap International is the only organisation that has offered to help us since we arrived in the camp. I’m so glad you’re here to care for my daughter,” says Younes, Sawsan’s father. “We provide her with physiotherapy but we also assist her with psychological support,” explains Mohammad, the organisation’s psychologist. “When she has finished her rehabilitation exercises I’ll get her to do some drawings. When she’s busy she forgets her fear for a moment. I can already see she’s made progress since our last session.”
Younes admits that the two years the family spent in the city, under the control of the Islamic State group, has had a big impact on their mental health. “People were executed in the street, in front of us. We were all very frightened and my children didn’t sleep much.” Sawsan’s father looks at her and then adds: “I still think about our lives before. She was so happy. Now, all I want is for my daughter to feel well again.”
The situation in Mosul
Fighting between armed groups and government forces in Iraq in recent years has displaced more than four million people from their homes. An estimated 10 million civilians need humanitarian assistance in the country. Since the start of the Mosul offensive, international organisations have been faced with an unprecedented challenge. According to the United Nations, this military operation could cause, in the worst-case scenario, the most serious humanitarian crisis of 2017 and the displacement of one million people. Nearly 200,000 people have fled the fighting since last October.