Some 1.2 million Iraqis are in "grave danger" as the offensive launched by the Iraqi government to dislodge Islamic State militants from Mosul progresses, warned the Norwegian Refugee Council (NCR) in a statement Monday.
“NRC reiterates its appeal to the parties to the conflict to guarantee the safety of women, children and men who have lived for more than two years under brutal oppression, by establishing safe exit routes as the topmost priority,” the statement said.
"Establishing genuinely safe routes out of the city for civilians is now the top priority. We have already seen the fatal consequences of so-called safe routes back in Fallujah and we cannot expose more Iraqis to such risks again,” said Wolfgang Gressmann, NRC's Country Director in Iraq.
Mosul, located in Nineveh province, is the largest city controlled by the Sunni extremist group. It had a population of more than 2 million before the conflict.
Islamic State overran Mosul in mid-2014 at the beginning of a lightning offensive that saw it seize swathes of Sunni Arab northern and western Iraq as Iraqi army and police units collapsed in the face of its onslaught.
The NRC emergency camps on the outskirts of Mosul can accommodate slightly more than 60,000 people at present, but as many as 200,000 may flee in the first days of the offensive, if they can make it out, the statement said.
Aid groups had earlier warned of a potential humanitarian crisis, with up to 700,000 civilians likely to flee the fighting according to the UN refugee agency UNHCR.