The crowd surges for the truck as soon as it arrives.
Children are crying as they’re passed along a production line of strangers up into the back of the vehicle’s high-walled metal tray. Mothers, sisters and grandmothers scramble after them, carrying their few possessions.
It’s standing room only. Watching them all squashed in as the doors close, it’s hard not to think of cattle.
But these people are now safe. Only a few hours earlier they were making the hazardous walk through Mosul’s eastern neighborhoods where Iraqi forces are trying to advance through the ISIS-controlled city.
Before Hasnaah Mohammed was helped up into the truck, she sat in a wheelchair. The 56-year-old says she’s now in too much pain to walk after her desperate escape from Mosul with four children.
“I was running among bullets. Walking and crying. Running and crying,” Mohammed says.
“We’ve been suffering from explosions for the past eight days and every day I prayed for God to save us. And then mortar rounds started hitting our home. Half of the home was destroyed.”
Families separated at screenings
The women and children in the truck are leaving behind the adult male members of their families. The men will be screened at another location to check they’re not ISIS members hiding among desperate civilians.
Um Noor has three young children and she doesn’t want to go without her husband.
“We are all families here who fled battles in Mosul and Daesh,” she says using the common Arabic acronym for ISIS.
“I don’t want to spend the night in the camp alone with my kids. I won’t feel safe.”
Um Noor’s concerns also point to a persistent lack of trust in the Iraqi security forces, who famously fled when ISIS swept through Mosul in June 2014.
“Of course I am worried about my husband,” she says. “What if they decide to arrest him for no reason?”
As soon as the women and children are gone, the Iraqi soldiers gruffly order the men to sit in rows. They’re huddled quietly up against an abandoned row of shops, sheltering in the shade.
One of the nervous, crouching figures looks too young to be with this group. Dawood Ali is only eleven years old.
He tells us he would never have anything to do with ISIS because he saw first hand what they’re capable of.
It’s an horrific story to hear from a young boy: “They slaughtered three men and called us to come watch. One of them, the poor guy, wasn’t beheaded properly. So another man came with a knife and finished the job.”