UN warns Iraqis fleeing Isis in Falluja lack humanitarian aid

UNHCR says €15m urgently needed to provide relief supplies to 85,000 in desert camps

Displaced Iraqi children, who fled from Falluja because of Islamic State violence, are seen at a camp on the outskirts of Falluja, Iraq: recent arrivals suffer extreme temperatures without shelter in the desert. Photograph: Reuters/Stringer

Displaced Iraqi children, who fled from Falluja because of Islamic State violence, are seen at a camp on the outskirts of Falluja, Iraq: recent arrivals suffer extreme temperatures without shelter in the desert. Photograph: Reuters/Stringer

 

The United Nations has warned that Iraqi civilians fleeing fighting in Falluja between government forces and Islamic State fighters lack water, food and shelter in the inhospitable desert camps where they are being confined by Baghdad.

Spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Ariane Rummery said 85,000 have fled Falluja and surrounding villages since Baghdad launched its offensive a month ago and said that $17.5 million (€15.4 million) was urgently required to provide relief supplies. The UN has released $15 million from emergency funds to meet desperate need.

More than 60,000 left Falluja in the past few days, overwhelming UN agencies and the Norwegian Refugee Council, which have assumed responsibility for care of the refugees.

Recent arrivals suffer extreme temperatures without shelter in the desert. Three families share a tent while the water ration is three litres a day, instead of the recommended 10 litres.

Washing and toilet facilities are insufficient. There are few young men in the camps as many have been detained by the army and Shia militias. Some have been executed and hundreds have disappeared.

The refugee influx appears to have confounded the UN although it had estimated up to 90,000 civilians remained in the city at the start of the campaign. The Iraqi military and allied militia forces have been so overwhelmed by the spate of refugees that many men have not been subjected to security checks, generating fears Islamic State fighters have been escaping with the refugees.

While the US has pledged $20 million to meet current needs, Washington is set to host a meeting only on July 20th to raise funds for 3.3 million displaced Iraqis and 7 million others in dire straits. An additional million could be displaced if and when Baghdad decides to launch an offensive to drive Islamic State from Mosul. Some 20,000 from Mosul and neighbouring villages have already sought refuge in overcrowded camps in the north.

Neither the UN nor the US-backed Iraqi government appears to have anticipated the exodus, although a mass outflow should have been expected since mass displacements took place during earlier offensives to dislodge Islamic State from Ramadi, Tikrit, and other cities and towns.

Civilians from Ramadi, once a city with 450,000 inhabitants, fled by car and lorry or on foot. Some went to relatives who live elsewhere in Sunni-majority Anbar province.

Few were allowed into Baghdad where the authorities have excluded displaced Sunnis, allegedly, on security grounds. Shias are the overwhelming majority in the capital, where before the 2003 US war Sunnis were said to be 30 per cent of the population.

Some 700 families from Falluja with relatives in Baghdad have camped out near a bridge over the Euphrates demanding to cross and proceed to the capital. Security forces refuse permission although their removal to Baghdad would ease pressure at makeshift camps.

The situation in Iraq can be contrasted with that in neighbouring Syria where displaced civilians have flooded into government-held Damascus, Homs, Hama and coastal cities as well as areas controlled by certain insurgent groups.

Beset by sectarianism, mismanagement and rampant corruption and deprived of funds by the low price of oil, Iraq can afford neither the battle against Islamic State nor its human consequences. Donors have provided only a third of the aid needed to cover basic humanitarian needs for displaced Iraqis during 2016.

Prime minister Haider al-Abadi has promised to build 10 new camps while the UNHCR has said 20 would be needed in coming weeks.

UNHCR has received only $127.7 million of the $584 million required for displaced persons and refugees in Iraq, Syria and neighbouring countries for 2016.