EFEDibaga Refugee Camp (Iraq)

From a distance, the Dibaga refugee camp in Iraq's northern Nineveh province resembles a mirage of blue and white plastic. But it is safety, not water, that brings thousand of Iraqis here in the flight from war and the extremist rule of the Islamic State.

Speaking to EFE, Mohamed, a frustrated mathematics student who arrived in the camp three days ago, described life under IS rule.

"With Daesh (the Arabic acronym for IS) there is no life, its like a body without a heart, like a heart that doesn't beat," he said.

Mohamed was one month away from finishing his university course when Mosul fell to the terror group in 2014.

"They ended education and they ended life," said the young man, adding that under IS rule there is neither an active economy nor health service and that people are reduced to simply eating and waiting.

Just like Mohamed, some 2,500 people have arrived at Dibaga in the last two weeks fleeing from the battlegrounds around Nimrud, on the outskirts of Mosul, or escaping the grip of the IS in the Hawija region of Kirkuk province slightly to the east.

They join the 30,000 displaced people who have made this camp their temporary home.

Originally built in 2015, the camp is now undergoing a third extension, said deputy director of humanitarian facilities of Dibaga, Sadek Mohamed.

"The situation is getting worse day by day, especially since the launch of the battle for Mosul," said Sadek Mohamed, adding that Dibaga is becoming evermore cramped and that the demand for food rations are hard to keep up with; some two tons of rice and beans are cooked everyday.

Sadek Mohamed explained that upon arrival, women and men are separated at the camp to be screened for IS links by the Kurdish security forces. If they are clean, they can return to their families, he said, but if there are suspicions they are taken to Erbil, the Kurdish regional capital, for further interrogation.

At the school in Dibaga, packed with women and a turbulent sea of children who scramble for the attention of the journalists, one displaced woman who withheld her name told EFE she had arrived on Oct. 19 with her husband and four children.

The woman's village, in the Nimrud region, was liberated after an eight hour offensive by the Kurdish Peshmerga forces who, upon securing the settlement, transported its residents to Dibaga.

As she breastfed her youngest child, she told EFE that sometimes food does not arrive to the camp, adding however that living conditions in Dibaga do not compare to those in Nimrud where they experienced a month without water or electricity.

Barham, 22, who has three children, escaped from Hawija 15 days ago under the cover of darkness, avoiding IS checkpoints along the way by taking a mountainous route inaccessible to vehicles.

"There was no life, they oppressed us," he said, adding that the punishment for attempting to flee the IS was a fine of 15,000 IQD ($13) on the first occasion, but being caught a second time could carry the death penalty.

Barham, his wife, his three children and several of his neighbors had to pass through minefields before the Peshmerga found them.

Barham was then separately taken to Dibaga while the rest of his family were transported to Dohuk, in northern Iraqi Kurdistan, and was visibly distressed when he said he did not know when he would see them again.

Everyone at the camp has similar stories of hardships, difficulties and pressures.

The women were always more willing than men to discuss their experiences, however everybody refused to be photographed or filmed for fear that the IS may retaliate against their family members who still live under jihadist rule.

As the Mosul liberation operation advances, international NGOs estimate that some one million people will be forced to flee their homes, joining the 3.3 million already displaced by two years of conflict with the IS.

Jorge Fuentelsaz