The United Nations refugee agency today voiced extreme concern over the fate of tens of thousands of Iraqis who have fled the city of Fallujah to escape the fierce fighting in an assault launched on rebels there by United States and Government forces.
“The most immediate needs of the displaced are food, shelter, water and sanitation and health care,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesperson Jennifer Clark told a news briefing in Geneva.
UNHCR, which has no international presence on the ground in Iraq, is part of a joint emergency group with the International Committee for the Red Cross and non-government organizations (NGOs) based in Amman, Jordan. The group is in close contact with colleagues inside Iraq and with partner organizations monitoring the situation.
The displaced people are staying with relatives, friends or other Iraqis around Fallujah. Some have been provided with tents. The majority of civilians appear to have left the city, although it is difficult to establish numbers with any certainty, Ms. Clark said.
Despite the extremely volatile security situation in the country, UNHCR has continued to facilitate voluntary repatriation of Iraqis insisting on going home from camps in neighbouring Iran. Over the past two weeks, 64 people returned to southern Iraq, while more than 700 people returned to northern areas, bringing the total of facilitated returns to 18,115 people since August 2003. UNHCR also facilitated returns from Jordan.
Repatriations are becoming increasingly difficult with deteriorating weather conditions. Near the northern Iraqi border it has been raining steadily for the last three days and the convoys can take a long time getting to their destination. It is not clear how long the repatriation movements from the north of Iran can continue with the weather getting worse and snow expected to fall soon.