Catastrophe unfolding in Fallujah: Civilians urgently need safe passage out

Humanitarian conditions inside the Iraqi town of Fallujah are rapidly deteriorating as fierce fighting intensifies. Families who have escaped surrounding villages told the Norwegian Refugee Council of the city being attacked from three different directions, leaving little safe routes through which civilians can evacuate.

“A human catastrophe is unfolding in Fallujah. Families are caught in the crossfire with no safe way out,” warned Jan Egeland, Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC). “For nine days we have heard of only one single family managing to escape from inside the town. Warring parties must guarantee civilians safe exit now, before it’s too late and more lives are lost.”

People NRC has spoken with inside the city report a severe lack of food, clean drinking water and medicine. They are living in dire conditions, as the city has been besieged for months.

“When the attack on Fallujah started, ISIS forced us to leave our homes and kept moving us from one damaged, deserted house to another,” said Suad, who fled from a village on the outskirts of the city with her husband and her six children. “All the time we were exposed to the exchange of fire. On our last day the fighting became too fierce; they were shooting above our heads.”

“The stories coming out of Fallujah are horrifying,” said Nasr Muflahi, NRC’s Country Director in Iraq. “A lack of food, medicine, safe drinking water and electricity are pushing families to the brink of desperation. People who managed to flee have told us of extreme hunger and starvation. We haven’t been able to see this for ourselves or assist people inside the town, and we are extremely concerned about the full extent of the terrors unfolding there.”

Only 554 families have escaped the surrounding areas of Fallujah since a military offensive began on 21 May. Around 50,000 civilians are thought to be still trapped inside the city. Families that have escaped have fled to displacement camps in Amiryiat Al Fallujah, only 30 kilometres away, where NRC is present. The sound of the battles can be heard from the camps. NRC has witnessed families arriving in a state of shock. Children are walking barefoot and parents are arriving with only the clothes on their backs.

NRC teams in Amiryiat Al Fallujah are working around the clock to assist families who have escaped, providing them with food and water. NRC is concerned about relief supplies running out as more people escape the city and arrive in the displacement camps. “There isn’t enough safe drinking water and the situation will quickly worsen with summer around the corner, and temperatures likely to hit over 50 degrees Celsius. The international community must urgently provide funding so that we can help the most vulnerable people,” said Egeland.

Iraq is facing a complex humanitarian crisis. An estimated 10 million people need humanitarian assistance. Some 3.4 million people are internally displaced across the country.