“Living and working in Mosul is no longer possible. Why would I return?”
Jassem al-Mosuli has warm memories of his home in Mosul. But he is afraid to go back.
Al-Mosuli and his family fled when ISIS took control in 2014. For much of the past three years, they’ve taken shelter in a mosque near Karbala in southern Iraq, about 350 miles from Mosul.
They have no home. No school for his children or grandchildren. Yet al-Mosuli prefers the life of a refugee to the prospect of going back. Recently, he told Iraqi news outlet Niqash why:
“Despite all of the problems that come with being displaced—housing and education for my sons and grandson—I prefer to stay here because I am scared of further sectarian violence,” the older man says, with his grandchildren playing noisily nearby, trying to attract his attention.
Al-Mosuli still feels angry and sad about the loss of his cousins and their families. Sixteen of them disappeared after ISIS took control of the city. “Most likely they were killed by ISIS members for some reason or another,” al-Mosuli says. “I am not ready to return to something like that.”
But as the conversation continued, al-Mosuli hinted there was another reason for not wanting to go back: the lack of opportunity waiting for him in Mosul.
At least there is the possibility of finding work in the nearby city of Karbala, even if it isn’t always steady or reliable. At least there’s the possibility of earning an income so he can hold his head high and provide for his family of seven children, plus several grandchildren who live with him in the mosque.
In al-Mosuli’s eyes, his beloved but war-ravaged hometown holds no such promise anymore. “Living and working in Mosul is no longer possible,” he says with a defeated shrug. “Why would I return?”
What if we could give al-Mosuli a reason to return? After all, no one should have to choose between coming home and providing for their family.
That’s why we’re helping families start small businesses all across Mosul—ice cream parlors, pizza shops, bakeries, beauty salons, shepherding, daycare centers, and more. We’re employing local doctors and nurses and supporting local medical clinics. Because people need a reason to go back.
The cameras have mostly moved on from Mosul. Now that the battle for Mosul is officially over, many aid organizations are scaling back or pulling up stakes—even though ISIS is still very much a threat here.
After nine months of fighting destroyed much of the city, the cost to rebuild is massive. It will take billions of dollars and years of commitment.
Real talk: that commitment may not materialize. Mosul could be left in ruins. Those who stayed and those who return could be left to cope with the aftermath of a war not of their own making. It would not be the first time this has happened. We know what lies at the end of this road: another ISIS, another extremist group ready to prey upon people’s despair at the future.
We cannot let that happen.
As our friend Khalid told us when we met him on one of our food deliveries in west Mosul, people need food “for a little while.” But what people in Mosul need more than anything is work.
The task of rebuilding a city is monumental. But we can start a business… and then another, and another. By staying when others move on—by being last to leave—we can see a city return to life.