Iraq: Fallujah's displaced endure 'inhuman' conditions

Thousands of families who continue to flee Fallujah face a "catastrophic" situation, aid workers say.

    Iraq: Fallujah's displaced endure 'inhuman' conditions
    Amiriyat al-Fallujah hosts a large number of displaced Iraqis, mainly from Anbar province [Salam Khoder/Al Jazeera]

    Amiriyat al-Fallujah - When Um Anwar, a resident of Fallujah, was asked to describe her life in the refugee camps at Amiriyat al-Fallujah, she summed it up in a sharp, clear voice: "We are staying inside the camp but living outside the tents." 

    Um Anwar left Fallujah on Friday June 17, with her four daughters. "We have been sleeping out in the open for days now," she told Al Jazeera. "My four daughters and I take turns in sleeping during the night. Two of us have to stay up watching while the rest of us fall into sleep. This is the only way to ensure no one is coming our way during the night. They told us that they had no tents to spare us one as a family."

    Her son, Anwar, fled the city 15 months ago and has been trying to make a living in Baghdad ever since, while her husband was killed in a bombing in Fallujah city shortly after her son left.

    The camps of Amiriyat al-Fallujah, 40km west of Baghdad, hosts thousands of displaced Iraqis, like Um Anwar, who mainly fled from Anbar province. An estimated 10,000 families have fled to several central camps for the internally displaced, in addition to other informal settlements in and around the city.

    Many families have no place to stay. They were not even given tents [Salam Khoder/Al Jazeera]

    It is the holy month of Ramadan, and we are fasting. We barely have enough food in the camp, and the water is very scarce. 

    Sabah Hassan, a Fallujah resident

    According to a recent report by the World Health Organization,  "the recently arrived families [from Fallujah], estimated at nearly 3,250 families, or 19,500 people, are living in five camps for internally displaced people and five informal settlements around the Bzibiz area …". 

    The report states that more than 42,000 Iraqis have been displaced - from Fallujah and the areas surrounding it - since the beginning of the military operations in the city in May 2016.

    The International Organization for Migration estimated that 1,758 families fled Fallujah district between June 11 and 13, as the Iraqi army advanced into the city.

    Diaa Salal, a member of the Aid Committee in Amiriyat al-Fallujah, an aid organisation affiliated with the Iraqi Ministry of Migration and Displaced, described the flow of families as "a human wave that hit the city in 24 hours".  He said that the response was very minimal and the city had no real resources to host the displaced.

    "When hundreds of families started arriving, we only offered them the very basic necessities, tents and some food. We need more support from international aid organisations especially because, when the battle for Mosul starts, we are expecting a substantial amount of displaced Iraqis," he added.

    READ MORE: Residents fleeing Fallujah tell of 'horrific' ISIL rule

    Sabah Hassan, an elderly citizen of Fallujah, complains about the "inhuman conditions that the displaced have to endure". He said that "civilians are the only ones who pay the price of the conflict. What is happening to us is unfair, we have done nothing".

    'Civilians are the only ones who pay the price of the conflict,' says Hassan [Salam Khoder/Al Jazeera]
    Hassan blames the Iraqi government for the miserable situation in the camps. "It is the holy month of Ramadan, and we are fasting. We barely have enough food in the camp, and the water is very scarce. We suffered from the lack of food supplies for months in Fallujah, and it seems our agony isn't ending any time soon." 

    Shaker Mahmoud Hadi, an aid worker with the Iraqi Ministry of Migration and Displaced, described the displaced people's situation as "really catastrophic". He explained that many families have no place to stay. They were not even given tents.

    "The resources are not enough, we can only provide for 30 percent of the displaced." Hadi pointed out the efforts of the local community. "In Amiriyat al-Fallujah, the mosques are urging people to donate to help the displaced. Many responded by opening their houses to host families from Fallujah. But that is not enough."

    Hadi called upon the international community to help the Iraqi government in dealing with the internally displaced people.

    Wahab Abbas, a Fallujah resident, said that "many families in Amiriyat al-Fallujah camp share a tent with other families. Sometimes, three or four families are put in one tent. It is better than having to stay out in the open." Abbas, who fled Fallujah with his family, added that he could afford to buy them some food with the money he carried with him when they fled.
    "We are lucky. We have saved some money that helps us buy some food supplies. But other families have nothing with them. They rely on what is given to them. It is hard for everyone. The temperature is high during the day. There is no clean water."
    Inside Story - Retaking Fallujah

    On June 13, the Iraqi government said that the number of displaced people in the country had reached 3.6 million. Iraqi officials have expressed concern over the slow response by the international community to the increasing numbers of displaced Iraqis.

    Raed al-Dahlakie, the head of the migration and displaced committee in the Iraqi parliament, warned of a possible "human disaster" that will fall upon the displaced Iraqis because of the lack of aid and proper medical care. Al-Dahlakie said that the "government has run out of funds to help the displaced".

    'Most of the families in the camps haven't had proper medical care for almost two years,' says al-Haj [Salam Khoder/Al Jazeera]

    But the lack of food supplies and clean water are not the only problems facing the displaced. Most of them have fled Fallujah, which has endured a siege for more than two years since it fell to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) in January 2014.

    "Most of the families in the camps haven't had proper medical care for almost two years, and that puts in danger all those who have chronic diseases, while the health of the children is being compromised," said Ralf al-Haj, the Red Cross spokesman in Baghdad.

    Al-Haj added that there is an urgent need to supply the camps with food and clean water, or the situation will deteriorate. 

    As the fighting between governmental forces and ISIL is still ongoing in the southern neighbourhoods of Fallujah, there are no clear numbers on the civilians trapped inside the city.

    The Red Cross spokesman told Al Jazeera that they are not being able to enter the city because of the fighting, and that is why they can't give accurate numbers of the civilians who are still inside Fallujah, but they estimate them by "a thousand probably".

    SOURCE: Aljazeera


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