Update on Fallujah from the Norwegian Refugee Council

Cries for help from besieged Fallujah

Newly arrived Iraqis from Fallujah on early Thursday morning, 26 May 2016, being received by NRC staff.

Newly arrived Iraqis from Fallujah on early Thursday morning, 26 May 2016, being received by NRC staff.

For months now, Fallujah has been under siege, cut off from aid and essential supplies, but since Iraqi forces launched the military operation to retake the city, up to 50,000 civilians are feared to be trapped and risk getting caught in the crossfire.

“The stocks in the hospitals are running low. There is no medicine for ordinary people. Instead of providing adequate treatment, doctors often simply amputate a patient’s arms or legs if they are in pain. There is no anesthetic left in the hospitals,” says Um Ahmed, who is trapped inside Fallujah together with his family. For months, the residents of the city have been coping with food shortages, lack of electricity, and hospitals have run out of medical supplies to treat the wounded.

“Food is scarce and we have mostly been relying on dates for our meals. Sometimes we burn wood to grill some aubergines over the fire for lunch. The price of vegetables has gone up in the city as a result of the food shortages. It has been seven months since we had sugar or rice. There’s a family who has been giving goats’ milk to their new-born baby, as baby milk is not available,” Ahmed testifies about the critical situation for thousands of civilians in Fallujah.

Not enough drinking water

The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) is in contact with the people who are trapped inside Fallujah. No families are known to have fled the centre of the city since Monday 23 May. 554 families have managed to escape the areas surrounding the city center and reached displacement camps. The families who arrived over the weekend came from Jumeila, on the outskirts of Fallujah.

“Last night we’ve had the highest number of displaced families reaching us so far. Our resources in the camps are now very strained. With many more expected to flee we might not be able to provide enough drinking water for everyone,” says Nasr Muflahi, NRC’s Country Director in Iraq.

NRC teams are working 24 hours a day in the camps in Amiriyat al Fallujah to receive new arrivals and provide people with food, water and hygiene kits. Al Fallujah Camp, housing 252 families, is already full one day after it opened. A new camp has been opened to take in new arrivals. However, the situation is critical. There is not enough drinking water in the area and summer is around the corner with temperatures over 50 degrees Celsius hitting Iraq.

The Norwegian Refugee Council urges the international community to provide more funding now so that the needs of civilians who manage to flee the intense fighting can be met.

“The priority is providing safe exits for at least 50,000 civilians believed to be trapped in the centre of Fallujah. We expect bigger waves of displacement the fiercer the fighting gets,” says Nasr Muflahi.

First cup of rice in five months

Last week Suad managed to flee Fallujah with her husband Ali — who suffers from physical disability and weak health — and their six children. The family is now staying in Al Iraq camp, 30 kilometers from Fallujah.

“We had our first cup of tea and rice in five months, here in this camp, when we arrived. My children laughed with joy when they saw rice offered to them. My husband Ali needed medical treatment months ago, which he only got now at Amiriyat Al Fallujah hospital”.

Suad is relieved that she and her family have reached the camp safely, in sharp contrast to the thousands of civilians still trapped inside Fallujah amid intense ongoing fighting.

“We feel safe here now. My children are getting food and my husband is getting treatment in hospital. I can’t think of anything beyond that. Arriving here safely was what mattered and it’s a big relief,” Suad says.

Thinking of Fallujah on Memorial Day

Finally, the media is paying attention to what is happening in Fallujah. Of course they love a good battle story right? Never mind that the people have been starving for months…

I suppose that it’s good that the current “battle for Fallujah” means that finally news is getting out about the dire situation there (although what a stupid question from Steve Inskeep in this NPR piece on why the people would stay inside the city with all the fighting going on…duh! They’re TRAPPED!) I found plenty of articles about the fighting and thankfully some also talked about the plight of the people, like this one in Al Jazerra:

 “Only a few hundred families managed to slip out of the Fallujah area, with an estimated 50,000 people still trapped inside the city proper.

According to the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), around 3,000 people have managed to escape the Fallujah area since May 21.

The biggest wave so far arrived to camps for displaced people on Saturday night, NRC said, but a larger influx could be triggered when the urban battle between CTS and ISIL begins in earnest.

“Our resources in the camps are now very strained, and with many more expected to flee we might not be able to provide enough drinking water for everyone,” said Nasr Muflahi, NRC’s Iraq director.

“We expect bigger waves of displacement the fiercer the fighting gets.”

$48 for a kilo of rice

The Fallujah operation has come at a human cost, rights groups said, amid battles between ISIL (also known as ISIS) fighters and the advancing Iraqi army and allied Shia militia.

One Fallujah resident told Al Jazeera by phone that there is lack of medicine and fuel in the city.

“There is some food. We have vegetables, enough to survive. But there is no rice and sugar, the price for a kilo of rice here reached $48,” the resident said. “ISIL is on alert on the outskirts of the city. Its fighters have set up checkpoints and prepared ambushes, which prevent people form leaving.”

I am grateful for groups like the Norwegian Refugee Council. This is from their facebook page:

“We walked all night through the water networks. All 88 of us were in the water. It was 1.5 metres high. We got out and we kept walking in our wet clothes. Hunger was our main motive to flee, and the constant fear of ISIS. Last time we ate rice was four months ago, but we were not the worst off. Others have had no food for much longer. For the past months we’ve fed on dried dates. We got our drinking water directly from the river. But only families with men who have bicycles have this privilege to fetch the river water. It’s considered better than the water from the agricultural water network. Those channels are salty, dirty and have animal carcasses floating in them. It’s used for cleaning and bathing, but those without men and bicycles end up drinking it too. Here in this camp we feel safe and secure. It’s the best thing that has happened to me, my family and for the rest of the people who made it out with us.”

Mohammed, his wife and their three children have just escaped Fallujah town in Iraq, since a military operation started there on Monday. They fled together with nine more families. They spent an entire night walking before they reached safety in a camp. NRC was on the ground to give them water and food.

 
NRC - Norwegian Refugee Council's photo.

 

I end this post with the words of my dear friend Ross, who – as you can read about in the introductory post of this blog – helped to found the Justice for Fallujah project after having fought there:

Happy Memorial Day, America. Here’s something worth remembering. About a decade and three weeks ago, the US was laying siege to the Iraqi city of Fallujah for the first time. Hundreds of civilian were killed and families had no access to cemeteries. So the bodies were either buried in their family’s garden or in the local soccer stadium, now known as the Martyrs Cemetery. And here we are again laying siege to Fallujah for the third time, although this time with the US military in a more ancillary (yet still essential) role, starving and bombing civilians who will only be remembered by their loved ones, or in the sketchings on their homemade tombstones. Memorial Day is for remembering, so let’s keep Fallujah in our mind this weekend.

Remember the babies…Peace to all on this and all days.

 

 

 

No safe routes for civilians trapped inside Fallujah

Fallujah has been in the news a lot over the past few days with stories such as this one  titled “Mixed Iraqi force prepares for push into militant stronghold of Fallujah” and this one  titled ‘A new formula in the battle for Fallujah”. And of course there are stories like this one that talks about “re-taking” Fallujah (at least the headline is a good one: “The latest battle in Fallujah is a symbol of the futility of US efforts in Iraq”).

But this is the one I want everyone to see:

No safe routes for civilians trapped inside Fallujah

As military operations to retake the besieged town of Fallujah continue, thousands of civilian families are trapped in the fighting with no safe route out, the Norwegian Refugee Council warned today. The lock-down for civilians trying to flee continued last night with no more families confirmed to have safely reached out of town. As of Tuesday morning, up to 50,000 civilians are believed to be trapped in Fallujah since military operations began yesterday.

NRC staff working in displacement camps outside the town say only 80 families have managed to flee to safety just hours before the fighting began.

“Nobody else seems to have been allowed out of town; there are thousands trapped in Fallujah with intense fighting raging on their doorsteps,” said NRC’s Country Director in Iraq, Nasr Muflahi.

“Families who have been suffering food and medical shortages over the last months now risk being caught in the crossfire, and it is absolutely vital that they are granted safe routes out of there so that we can assist them. All parties to this conflict have to provide safe exits for civilians.”

The few families who have managed to flee to safety in displacement camps speak of a dangerous journey out of the town ahead of the military operations. They have sought safety in camps in Amiryiat Al Fallujah, around 30kms away from Fallujah’s centre. NRC is present providing the newly displaced families with emergency water, food parcels and hygiene kits.

It is estimated that as many as 7,000 families will be internally displaced within Fallujah if the intense fighting continues. Iraq is facing a complex and multiple displacement crisis with more than 1.1 million people displaced inside Iraq last year alone. A staggering total of 3.4 million people are currently internally displaced across the country.