Tens of thousands have flowed out of war-wracked Mosul in recent weeks, but Samir Hamid and 33 family members have decided to go against the tide to return home. "We stayed with relatives for a week and now we're going back home," says the father-of-five, who has traveled with his extended family from a small town outside Mosul.
Iraqi forces have retaken several neighborhoods in west Mosul from the Islamic State group since starting an assault last month to recapture the jihadists' last major urban bastion in the country. More than 150,000 people have fled their homes in west Mosul, the Iraqi authorities say, of which two-thirds have found shelter in camps near the city where they receive food, blankets and foam mattresses.
But Hamid says he, his five brothers and their families -- 34 people in total -- are heading home to the Wadi Hajar district after finding there was no space for them in a displaced camp in the Hamam al-Alil area."We couldn't find any room at the camp," says the man in his thirties.
"There are too many people there three to four families per tent," says Hamid, dressed entirely in black and his plastic sandals covered in mud.
As they approach a hill to climb on the city outskirts, Hamid's family grab small metal carts abandoned by civilians who have fled the city in the opposite direction.They pile on their bags crammed with belongings.
A woman in the family, her face covered with a black face veil, struggles to advance under the weight of a dirty beige blanket she carries. She lifts the veil from her face. "We'll be better off at home," says Hamid, who has brought biscuits, milk and butter in his bags. When Hamid and his family fled Mosul, they escaped what they described as a living hell.
His eldest son stands behind him, a beany hat pulled over his head. He is 12 years old, but looks half his age."We're going back because we were told the situation was much better, that there wasn't any more fighting," Hamid says.
Like him, many other Mosul residents dream of returning to a normal life.In the Al-Jawsak neighborhood, residents have draped white flags at the entrance of small houses on the edge of streets strewn with rubble.