Mass food poisoning outbreak leaves 800 ill at Iraq refugee camp

A child holds bread as she is carried by her mother who fled home due to fighting between Iraqi forces and Islamic State militants, near the Old City in western Mosul, Iraq. Erik De Castro/Reuters

About 800 people fell ill in a mass outbreak of food poisoning at a camp for displaced people east of the Iraqi city of Mosul, officials and aid groups said on Tuesday.

More than 300 people were taken to hospital for treatment after breaking their Ramadan fast with an iftar meal on Monday night, aid groups told Reuters. About 800 in total were affected.

“Ten of my family were poisoned,” said a black-clad woman under a tent used as makeshift treatment center at the camp, with an intravenous rehydration drip in her arm. “It was rice, tomato sauce and chicken legs.”

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Another woman held in her arms a child gasping with pain.

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United Nations agencies working at the camp said nobody had died as a result of the poisoning.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported earlier the death of a woman and a child.

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“It is tragic that this happened to people who have gone through so much,” said Andrej Mahecic, from the U.N.’s refugee agency UNHCR, which runs the camp and 12 others in the war-torn area with Iraqi authorities.

Many of the camp residents had fled fighting around Mosul as Iraqi government forces and their allies press an offensive to push Islamic State militants out of the northern city.

The IOM said a Qatari aid group had paid a local restaurant to provide the food for the meal, though that was not confirmed by other agencies.

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“I don’t know the name of the restaurant, but that’s what our person on the site is reporting today,” IOM spokesman Joel Millman said in Geneva.

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The camp in al-Khazer, on the road linking Mosul and Erbil, the capital of the Kurdish region, houses 6,300 people, the UNHCR said.

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About 800,000 people, more than a third of the pre-war population of Mosul, have already fled the city, seeking refuge with friends and relatives or in camps.

“We threw up on the floor, I felt severe pain in the stomach, the doctors came at night but some remained in serious condition till morning,” said a young man at the camp.

Some of those who had been taken to hospitals returned to the camp in the afternoon, in ambulances or in minibuses, many holding serum bags.

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