Tens of thousands of civilians escaped the city, 50km west of Baghdad, as a major advance by Iraqi forces penetrated central Fallujah in recent days. The aid community has been struggling to cope. Thousands of people suffering from hunger and trauma are stranded in the scorching summer heat with no shelter. “The estimated number of people displaced from Fallujah in just the past three days is 30000,” the Norwegian Refugee Council said. The UN’s refugee agency said up to 84000 people had been forced to flee their homes since the start of the government offensive against the IS bastion nearly a month ago.
“Agencies are scrambling to respond to the rapidly evolving situation. We are bracing ourselves for another large exodus in the next few days. We estimate that thousands of people are still trapped in Fallujah,” the UN Human Rights Council said. “We implore the Iraqi government to take charge of this humanitarian disaster,” Norwegian Refugee Council director for Iraq Nasr Muflahi said. The agency said it could no longer provide assistance and that water rations were nearly exhausted. It cited the case of a newly opened camp in Amriyat al-Fallujah, south of Fallujah, which houses 1800 people but has only one latrine for women.
“We need the Iraqi government to take a leading role in providing for the needs of civilians who have endured months of trauma and terror,” Muflahi said. An Iraqi aid worker at Amriyat al-Fallujah said the resources were inadequate to deal with the scope of the crisis. “Four hundred families have reached my camp in the past four days; they don’t have anything,” said a camp manager, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“We were shocked by the number of displaced people and we weren’t prepared to receive them.”Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has promised to support Fallujah’s refugees. On Friday night, after Iraqi forces raised the national flag above the main government compound in Fallujah, he declared that the city had been “brought back to the fold”. But hundreds of IS fighters are still holed up in the city’s northern neighbourhoods.