The UN refugee agency’s representative in Iraq said aid workers are preparing for a potentially massive outflow of civilians from Mosul’s Old City, raising fears for civilians being held as human shields.
UNHCR representative Bruno Geddo said aid groups needed to be flexible as Iraqi forces battle to retake the last district of Mosul held by the Islamic State group.
Iraqi forces launched the operation on Sunday to retake the Old City, after a months-long offensive to drive the jihadists from Mosul, Iraq’s second city.
Commanders say the jihadists are putting up fierce resistance and there are fears for civilians trapped in the maze of narrow streets.
Aid agencies scrambled to assemble shelters in various locations around Fallujah and across the country.
Fallujah’s population at the time of the military offensive was approximately 300,000 people. The U.N. estimates the population of Mosul is currently approximately 1.5 million.
With the number of evacuees from Fallujah having overwhelmed aid agencies, officials are anxious at the prospect of mass displacement from Mosul.
If estimates from the U.N. hold true, the total number of internally displaced people in Iraq could grow to more than 4 million people.
The number of people internally displaced by conflict in Iraq since 2014 has reached 3.2 million, according to U.N. estimates. That is almost one-tenth of the population, making Iraq the country with the third-highest number of internally displaced people in the world.