(Reuters) Mohammed Ali and his family, carrying all their worldly possessions in a few bags, had been on the road for 18 hours since fleeing their home in an ISIS -held area of Mosul.
They hoped to find shelter at a camp. So far, they have had no luck.
“We tried at Hammam al-Alil camp,” about 35 km (22 miles) south of Mosul, the 50-year-old said, flanked by 20 relatives including sons and grand-nephews and nieces. “It was full.”
A bus had brought them from there and unloaded them a few hundred metres (yards) from a Kurdish peshmerga checkpoint east of Mosul and on the way to the sprawling Khazer and Hasan Sham camps, which are also crowded.
“Hopefully we can get to Khazer. We just need to get through the checkpoint,” Ali said.
Ali’s story is becoming a familiar one.
Displaced Iraqis are streaming out of western Mosul at a quickening pace as fighting intensifies in the city. They are arriving at camps to find there is no room, forced to get back onto buses or hire taxis to reach other areas.
Some head for new camps being built to try to cope with the exodus, but with poor living conditions, many western Mosul residents make instead for the east side of the city, which was recaptured from ISIS in January, to stay with relatives or find shelter in half-finished buildings.
The U.S.-backed Iraqi offensive to drive ISIS out of Mosul, their last major stronghold in the country, has confined the jihadists to about half of the western side.
Iraq’s immigration minister, Jassim Mohammed, said on Monday the number of displaced people from both sides of of the city since the start of the campaign had reached 355,000.
The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) recently opened a new camp that filled up within a week and is building another in Hammam al-Alil to received thousands more families.
Hammam al-Alil has become the main transit point for the Mosul displaced. At the current camp’s main entrance, hundreds of Iraqis wait in the mud and cold, crouching by small fires, using porta-cabin toilets and asking which buses will take them onwards.
Taxi drivers tout for business, many shouting “Mosul, Mosul!” – to take people back to the eastern side of the city.