Cries for help from besieged Fallujah
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.