The United Nations and partners today warned they are “in a race against time” to provide life-saving assistance to people fleeing escalating violence in Anbar, particularly around the battle for Fallujah, while the UN envoy for Iraq reiterated his call to ensure civilians have unhindered access to medical facilities and humanitarian assistance.
In a joint statement, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Food Programme (WFP), the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that they travelled to a series of camps yesterday, established to receive people escaping the violence.
In the past 10 days, approximately 10,000 people have reportedly come to these camps to seek safety and services. An estimated 50,000 people remain trapped in the city as the military offensive continues. The Iraqi Government has established a number of camps for the 60,000 people already displaced in Anbar, and in anticipation of movement from the Fallujah area. The UN warned that these facilities are overstretched, with little capacity to absorb more people.
Reports also indicated that residents in Fallujah have been living with extreme levels of violence, and humanitarian actors have not been able to reach them for nearly a year. In addition to violence, residents have had to cope with acute shortages of food, medicine and other basic services, such as water supplies, with no way to leave the city.
The joint UN mission found people sheltering in tents or huddled in whatever shade they could find to escape the searing heat and blowing dust. Most people fled with just their clothes, and many families had been separated from male members who were undergoing screening. One woman approached the mission team members and asked for help, saying: “We came with nothing, we have nothing,” which is said to characterize the situation of thousands of other people in the camps.
In regards to these examinations, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Iraq, Ján Kubiš, called on the Iraqi authorities screening civilians leaving the combat zone to ensure the process is conducted “as expeditiously as possible and in full conformity with humanitarian principles under a centralized government structure that guarantees transparency, reliable tracking of those being detained and accountability of their figures and whereabouts to prevent abuses and assure their worried relatives.”
“The people of Fallujah have suffered immensely under Da’esh (also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL). Many of them are on the move, further risking their lives to escape the terrorist group and the fighting, and are desperately in need of safe shelter. They should not be subjected to further suffering and intimidation,” Mr. Kubiš said.
Meanwhile, the UN and partners are spearheading a joint rapid response that provides safe drinking water, food rations, and hygiene and sanitation assistance to families. Safety is reportedly a major concern, given that the front lines are just several kilometres from the camps. The UN expects the conflict to escalate and with that more people to be displaced.
As a result of escalating violence in the past two years, more than 3.4 million people are now displaced all over Iraq, with more than half being children. Across the country, more than 10 million people need lifesaving humanitarian assistance. The UN estimates the Humanitarian Response Plan for Iraq to have a funding gap of over $550 million.