At least 20,000 children trapped in Falluja, UN says

Iraqi armed forces launched offensive last week to retake city from Islamic State

Civilians who fled their homes due to clashes on the outskirts of Falluja gather in the town of Garma, Iraq, on Monday. Photograph: Thaier Al-Sudani/Reuters

Civilians who fled their homes due to clashes on the outskirts of Falluja gather in the town of Garma, Iraq, on Monday. Photograph: Thaier Al-Sudani/Reuters

 

At least 20,000 children remain inside the besieged city of Falluja, Islamic State’s stronghold near Baghdad, facing the risk of forced recruitment in the fighting and separation from their families, the United Nations’ children’s agency said on Wednesday.

“We are concerned over the protection of children in the face of extreme violence,” Unicef representative in Iraq Peter Hawkins said in a statement.

“Children face the risk of forced recruitment into the fighting” inside the besieged city, and “separation from their families” if they manage to leave, he added.

Backed by Shia militias and air strikes from the US-led coalition, the Iraqi armed forces launched an offensive on May 23rd to recapture Falluja, 50km west of Baghdad.

The assault on Falluja has begun what is expected to be one of the biggest battles ever fought against Islamic State, also known as Isis.

Falluja was the first Iraqi city that fell under control of the ultra-hardline Sunni militants, in January 2014.

About 50,000 civilians remain in the city, according to the United Nations.

Iraqi security forces operating in Falluja separate systematically men and boys over 12 from the families to probe possible links with Islamic State.

“Unicef calls on all parties to protect children inside Falluja, provide safe passage to those wishing to leave the city and grant safe and secure environment to civilians who fled Falluja,” Mr Hawkins said.

Reuters