Dark drawings of tanks, warplanes, rockets from refugee kids reveal life under ISIS
Hamaad, a 14-year-old boy from Mosul, holds up his drawing of his home. (World Vision)
Published Wednesday, November 23, 2016 7:00AM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, November 23, 2016 9:44AM EST
A 12-year-old girl remembers the fear she felt when ISIS arrived in her city more than two years ago. Raqwa* recalled how soldiers appeared in Mosul in northern Iraq in June 2014 and began arresting residents and humiliating them in front of their neighbours.
“I saw a man selling things on the street and then ISIS threw stones at him until he died,” she said. “I was afraid because I didn’t cover my hair and ISIS prevented girls from showing their heads,” she said.
The young girl shared her disturbing memories at the Zelican displaced persons camp, about 25 kilometres outside of Mosul, where she fled with her family after ISIS occupied the city. More than 60,000 civilians have been displaced since Iraqi troops began an offensive against ISIS in Mosul on Oct. 17. Nearly half of those refugees are children, according to World Vision.
Little Ahmed is only eight years old and he has already witnessed more violence than most of us will experience in a lifetime. He spoke about living under ISIS rule in Mosul from the same camp as Raqwa.
“They were shooting bullets towards people. They were scaring everyone,” Ahmed said. “The sound of bullets scared me.”
From the relative safety of the camp, Ahmed revealed that his family has no plans to ever return to their home in Mosul.
“We won’t ever go back,” Ahmed said. “We don’t love it anymore.”
Both Ahmed and Raqwa remarked on how they weren’t allowed to play under the ISIS regime. Now that they’re in the safety and security of the Zelican camp, they have been encouraged to play as much as they want.
The children play in the newly constructed World Vision’s Child Friendly Space inside the camp’s grounds. The tented retreat provides a secure place for children who fled the atrocities of war to go to play games, draw and feel safe again.
Dejin Jamil, a local Yazidi woman and the child protection manager for World Vision Iraq told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview from the camp on Tuesday that about 300 children from Mosul visit the Child Friendly Space on a daily basis.
She said it was difficult at first to earn the children’s trust and convince them to have fun when they first started arriving on Oct. 23.
“You could tell from their eyes that they couldn’t trust people around them because they have been among ISIS for almost two years,” Jamil said.
Jamil said after a few days the children started to open up to the camp workers and share their stories from Mosul. She said many of them used their drawings to communicate what they had witnessed at home.
“At the beginning, they were drawing tanks, warplanes, rockets,” Jamil said. “They mostly used dark colours.”
One of those drawings came from a 14-year-old boy named Hamaad. He used the opportunity to portray a scene from his past. Hamaad described a terrifying encounter he had with ISIS while he was tending to his sheep at his family’s home in Mosul. He said the terrorist group had put up borders on the roads so that civilians wouldn’t cross them.
“I didn’t know and I crossed the road,” Hamaad recalled. “They took all my sheep. They beat me with 20 sticks on my back.”
His father begged the terror group to return the family’s sheep, as it was their only source of income, but he was rebuffed. Hamaad chose to reminisce about his stolen sheep by drawing them at the camp.
“Today I drew a picture of my sheep by a nice stream and nature,” he told World Vision.
Jamil noticed that as time went on, the children began asking the camp workers for more coloured crayons to use for their drawings. She said she could tell they were eager to enjoy themselves in the new space.
“It’s really important to have a space in these camps where they can go to forget what they’ve been through during life under ISIS and learn to be children again,” Jamil said.
One nine-year-old girl has already begun the healing process in her new home. Manal remembered being terrified when she heard the sound of rockets and bullets in her neighbourhood. These days, she feels much safer and has started looking towards the future.
“When I was in Mosul I couldn’t sleep. I had nightmares. But now, here, I don’t have any,” Manal said. “I wish I had a house with two floors and a big garden and a lot of windows.”
Another young girl, 11 years old, also expressed hope through her artwork by drawing a heart with red crayons, Jamil said.
“She said, ‘I wanted to draw a heart because it means love,’” Jamil said. “She didn’t have access to colours or paper when she was home.”
Meanwhile, Raqwa doesn’t feel afraid about her uncovered hair anymore and has even started expressing hopes for her own future.
“I don’t want to go home one day. I can’t feel safe there. I want to be with my friends, my family and finish school and one day be a doctor,” Raqwa said. “I just wish we could be happy.”
*All of the children’s names have been changed to protect their identities.