UN relief wing foresees thousands more fleeing Fallujah amid ongoing fighting
20 June 2016 – More than 83,000 people have fled the besieged city of Fallujah and surrounding areas as of this past Saturday, and thousands more could still be on the move amid ongoing fighting, the United Nations relief wing has reported.
In a humanitarian update, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) highlighted that since military operations led by Iraqi security forces to retake Fallujah in Anbar from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da'esh) began on 22 May, people have fled Fallujah in rapidly increasing numbers.
Most people initially fled outlying areas of Fallujah, but on 7 June, reports were received of some families leaving Fallujah city itself, as military operations began to enter the city centre. In the past few days, tens of thousands of people have been allowed to leave the centre of town, OCHA said.
"The sudden increase in displacement in early June follows both increased opportunities for families to flee as well as hundreds of other families demonstrating a willingness to take extremely high risks to try to escape, sometimes with grave consequences," OCHA noted in the bulletin.
There are reports of people drowning as they tried to escape, or being injured or killed by snipers or improvised explosive devices. Many families are separated during their escape, with men and teenage boys being separated from their families for security screening, OCHA said.
The families still trapped inside Fallujah are thought to have only limited, if any, food, and there appear to be few sources of safe drinking water. The risk for disease outbreaks is high, OCHA noted.
While it is not clear how many civilians remain in the city, OCHA said that UN estimates indicate there could still be thousands of families.
"Nothing is more important than ensuring that civilians are protected and have access to life-saving assistance. The UN and partners continue to call on all parties to the conflict to do everything possible to meet their obligations under international humanitarian law," OCHA said in the update.
Emergency response is ongoing in multiple locations
Most displaced people from Fallujah have been taken to Ameriyat al Falluja, a town located about 30 kilometres south of the city, where the Government of Iraq and partners had previously prepared tents as well as water, sanitation and hygiene facilities.
These camps are now full, although the Government and humanitarian partners are working to quickly set up others, including in the nearby towns of Khalidiyah and Habbaniyah Tourist City, OCHA said.
People are also fleeing areas north of Fallujah towards the east, and are being hosted in local schools and in the Al Ahal camp.
OCHA said that major efforts are being made to provide emergency assistance to the newly displaced, including shelter, water, food, basic household items and health care. Specialized activities for children and women are being established and mobile teams are providing psychological support.
The UN has not been able to access Fallujah since it came under the control of armed opposition groups in January 2014. Humanitarian partners have worked with about 50,000 civilians remaining in Fallujah, although OCHA stressed that the number of displaced people is well above that planning figure and that the scope of the crisis has outpaced humanitarian capacity.
"Contingency stocks are nearly depleted, every agency requires funds and there are few frontline partners," OCHA stressed. "With rising temperatures and lack of shade and clean drinking water, outbreaks of communicable diseases are likely."
OCHA also emphasized that there is only limited support for newborn babies, and nearly all of the children who have been outside Government control have not yet been immunized. The low level of antigens, coupled with poor hygiene and substandard sanitation, raises the risk of disease outbreaks further.
Prior to the most recent military operation, more than 75,000 displaced people from other locations within Anbar were already residing in camps near Fallujah in Khalidiyah, Habbaniyah and Ameriyat al Falluja.
Humanitarian partners also continue to provide emergency assistance to other conflict-affected people, including in the transit sites Al Wafaa and Kilo 18 in western Anbar, OCHA said.
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