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Mosul parents sedate children with drugs to avoid Islamic State

“Families often leave at night and in the early hours of the morning and have to walk with their children,” Hala Jaber of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) told Reuters. “The kids get tired and if they cry it’s very difficult. Families are sometimes putting duct tape on their children’s mouths or even giving them Valium or tranquilizers just to keep them quiet so that they are not found out by IS and captured or shot.”

The United Nations refugee agency said on Thursday that some 157,000 Mosul residents had reached a refugee center away from the fighting. However, as many as 600,000 people are believed to be trapped inside the city, where Iraqi troops backed by U.S.-led air strikes have been engaged in a fierce, building-by-building battle for the city. The coalition is winning — but at a terrible cost of innocent life. In addition to forcing males to fight, IS fighters have been using civilians as human shields. Snipers, who have been targeting civilians attempting to escape, are deliberately taking up positions on the roofs of residential buildings in the hope that the presence of women and children will slow the Iraqi army advance and stymie U.S. bombing.

But it hasn’t always worked. In addition to artillery bombardment and cross-fire, air strikes have claimed and maimed many civilians. On Thursday, Iraqi and international news outlets reported a U.S.-led air strike killed some 230 people, mostly women and children, sheltering in two homes IS fighters had entered in the Jadida neighborhood. Earlier this month, the U.K.-based monitor group Airwars said hundreds of innocent civilians had been killed in coalition attacks in Mosul in the first week of March alone. It is not known how many civilians have been killed by IS forces.

The situation has left the hungry, cold and terrorized people of Mosul with two perilous options — hunker down and hope IS fighters, Iraqi shells and bullets and U.S. bombs miss them, or run for their lives and face the same dangers out in the open in hope of escape to safety in a cold, crowded camp. For many, the latter has become the only choice as food, water and safety dwindle. “We had no food. That’s why we decided to risk escaping,” 43-year-old Bashar Hazem, who fled with two of his brothers, one of them shot in the leg, told Reuters. Hazem said the trio was part of a larger group who fled in the early morning darkness on Friday, and that IS snipers shot three women in his group in their legs. “Even if you are injured, they shoot at you,” Hazem’s 29-year-old brother Ali said.

Under such harrowing conditions, parents are turning to pharmaceutical sedatives to calm their traumatized children. “My family gave drugs to the young children,” teenager Noor Muhammed, who escaped in a group of 27, is quoted by Reuters. “Parents gave sleeping medicine to their children so they wouldn’t be horrified by the fighting; also, so that when they ran at night under the darkness they wouldn’t be found because of the children.”

“The things the children have seen and been through are beyond what any human being should see,” Jaber of IOM told Reuters. “They’ve witnessed hands being cut off, beheadings and killings. A lot of them are in shock.” Still, there is hope. Jaber said that when children arrived, “they were drawing tanks with IS flags.”

“Now they’re drawing flowers and happy faces,” she said.

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