The United Nations refugee agency said today that it is delivering emergency relief supplies to families who managed to escape the besieged Iraqi city of Fallujah over the past few days.
In a press briefing in Geneva earlier today, Melissa Fleming, chief spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) noted that more than 800 people have fled Fallujah, mostly from outlying areas, as the Government continues its military offensive to re-take control of the city, around 60 kilometres west of the capital, Baghdad.
“Families have told UNHCR and its protection partners harrowing tales of their escape, travelling on foot for hours at night, moving across fields and hiding in disused irrigation pipes. Others have lost their lives trying to leave the city, including women and children,” Ms. Fleming said.
Several people, including women and children, have been killed trying to escape, she noted.
Fallujah was the first city to be taken by extremist groups in January 2014. Since then, more than 3.2 million people have been displaced across Iraq, the spokesperson said.
Ms. Fleming underscored that some 50,000 civilians still remain trapped inside Fallujah, prevented from escaping by extremist forces as the city continues to come under heavy bombardment by Iraqi forces.
In December, routes out of the city were cut off and civilians prevented from leaving. Since then, food has been in short supply, people are relying on expired rice and dried dates, and several starvation-related deaths have been reported, the spokesperson said.
In addition, families have had to rely on unsafe water sources, including drainage water from irrigation canals. Health facilities and medications are not available in the area, leading some families to reportedly use herbal medicine for the purpose of treatment, Ms. Fleming said.
UNHCR and its partner, Muslim Aid, will distribute emergency relief items to families who have escaped Fallujah and are sheltering in one camp it has helped to set up in Amiriyat al-Falluja, in Anbar governorate.
The agency plans to open two new camps next week in Habbaniyah Tourist City, which will be able to accommodate 500 newly displaced families. The number of families who have escaped, however, is still very small, given the tens of thousands of people still trapped in the besieged city, Ms. Fleming noted.
Inside Fallujah, there have been reports of a dramatic increase in the number of executions of men and older boys refusing to fight on behalf of extremist forces. Other reports say a number of people attempting to depart the city have been executed or whipped, and one man’s leg was reportedly amputated, the spokesperson said.
In addition, many people are reported to have been killed or buried alive under the rubble of their homes in the course of ongoing military operations.
“It is vital that safe routes are opened, allowing civilians access to safety and live-saving assistance,” Ms. Fleming said.
She added that UNHCR and its partners have built extra shelters that are ready to assist newly displaced families and will distribute emergency supplies to provide them with some essential daily items.