The top United Nations humanitarian official in Iraq has expressed deep concern over reports that boys are being sent to areas near front lines in the country’s war, possibly to join armed groups fighting against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
“Involving children in fighting is totally unacceptable,” said the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, Lise Grande, in a news release issued by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) today, expressing deep concern at the reports of recruitment of children in at least one displacement camp in the country.
“Nothing is more important than ensuring the safety of civilians during the conflict,” she added.
Ms. Grande, who is also the UN Secretary-General’s Deputy Special Representative for Iraq, further warned that hundreds of thousands of civilians will require protection and assistance, given that the battle to retake Mosul, the second largest city in the country, is likely to start soon.
Reminding that international humanitarian law prohibits all parties to the conflict from recruitment of minors or their use in hostilities and that it requires the parties ensure the protection of civilians and allow them to leave conflict zones safely, Ms. Grande said: “Under no circumstances can civilians be used as human shields. This violates all principles of humanity.”
The news release added that humanitarian actors in the country issued a so-called Flash Appeal in July, urgently requesting $284 million to prepare for a response in Mosul. A Flash Appeal occurs within the context of any major sudden onset disaster that requires a coordinated response beyond the capacity of the government plus any single UN agency to respond to, and it outlines specific response plans to address acute humanitarian needs, normally for up to six months. Humanitarian agencies have also sought funding for the regular 2016 Humanitarian Response Plan which provides assistance for 7.3 million Iraqis.
However, to date, less than 20 per cent of the Flash Appeal and only about 53 per cent of the $861 million required for on-going operations of humanitarian partners has been received.
“Everybody has to do everything possible to ensure [the civilians] live and receive the assistance they need,” said Ms. Grande.
The news release also flagged that the UN is deeply concerned over reports of mass graves of thousands of civilians in areas formerly under the control of ISIL.
According to OCHA, the crisis in Iraq is one of the largest, most complex and volatile in the world. More than 10 million Iraqis currently require some form of humanitarian assistance, including 3.4 million civilians who are internally displaced, many for the second or third time.