Iraq: Aid agencies inundated as thousands flee Fallujah

As offensive against ISIL continues, 150,000 people from besieged city may soon be in need of urgent humanitarian aid.

Iraq camp Fallujah
More than 20,000 people have fled Fallujah in the past two days alone, the UN says [Reuters]

About 2,300 families have fled the Iraqi city of Fallujah over the past 24 hours, according to an international aid group, as government forces and their allies push forward with an offensive to retake the city from the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) group.

The Iraqi army said on Saturday it had gained control of Fallujah’s main hospital, a day after recapturing the government compound in the centre of the city.

Fighters belonging to ISIL, also known as ISIS, still hold roughly 20 percent of the city and are entrenched on its northern districts.

Battle for Fallujah: More than 300 soldiers killed in two days

Humanitarian agencies working on the outskirts of Fallujah, located 50km west of the capital Baghdad, said they were struggling to cope with the heavy flow of displaced civilians fleeing the violence as the offensive continues, pressing on towards ISIL-held Mosul.

“In the last 24 hours, more than 2,300 families have actually managed to leave Fallujah, and to be honest, there’s very little space for them in Amariyat al-Fallujah, Habbaniyah Tourit City and Khaldiyah, which is where they are escaping to,” Nasr Muflahi, Iraq country director for the Norwegian Refugee Council in Erbil, told Al Jazeera on Saturday.

More than 20,000 people have fled Fallujah in the past two days alone, according to the UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR).

“We are now finding it difficult to cope with the numbers that are coming out of Fallujah, especially in terms of delivering safe drinking water. We’re down to the bare minimum of three litres per person, and we’re not really sure how long we can continue to do that,” said Muflahi.

READ MORE: ‘Militias take turns to torture us’, say Fallujah civilians

The UN and the Iraqi government have set up camps for 60,000 displaced civilians in Anbar province, but have warned there is little capacity to absorb any more people.

New arrivals, many of whom have been trapped by fighting for weeks, reach relative safety to find overcrowded camps and settlements.

“The people coming out of Fallujah are telling us horrific stories of how they were treated – the lack of food, no services, no electricity,” said Muflahi.

Iraqi army claims victory over ISIL in Fallujah

“We are doing our utmost, with other agencies, to respond to their needs, which is shelter, water and food,” said Muflahi.

“These are things that we need to prioritise, and we need to now rather than later.”

Some 70,000 people are estimated to have fled Fallujah, and another 60,000 are expected to leave over the next several days, according to the UNHCR. The agency estimates that up to 150,000 displaced people may soon be in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. 

“Thousands of families may also remain trapped in Fallujah,” Stephane Dujarric, spokesperson for the UN secretary general, said on Saturday.

“These are estimates … however, we remain very concerned about the safety and the wellbeing of the people still in Fallujah.”

Rising cases of abuse

Rights groups have voiced concern over reports of abuse, mistreatment and extrajudicial killings. And Sunni politicians have called on Haider al-Abadi, Iraq’s prime minister, to investigate the rising number of alleged abuses.

Iraqi security forces fear that ISIL fighters may be hiding among the displaced.

Shia units known as the Popular Mobilisation Forces fighting alongside government troops have been separating males from their families, detaining the men to put them through a security screening process.

READ MORE: ‘ISIL fighters sneaking out of Fallujah with civilians’

The government lost control of Fallujah in 2014, months before ISIL took Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul, and swept across large parts of the country.

As a result of escalating violence over the past two years, more than 3.4 million people are now displaced across Iraq – more than half of them children.


Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies