High civilian needs as Hawiga is retaken
As the Iraqi government announced Hawiga retaken this morning, thousands of people are left displaced with no homes to return to. “No one must be forced to return to the newly retaken areas. It is crucial for Iraq’s future that all returns are informed, voluntary and happen only after areas are safe and basic services can be provided,” said the Norwegian Refugee Council’s (NRC) country director in Iraq, Heidi Diedrich.
Since the military offensive to retake Hawiga from the Islamic State group (IS) was announced on 21 September, more than 12,500 people have been displaced, bringing the number to a total of over 100,000 who have fled their homes since August 2016. Many are currently residing in transit sites and camps in Salah Al-Din and Kirkuk governorates.
“Among them are older people, new-born babies and children who don’t know where their parents are. Although the government has now declared the offensive over, these civilians are still in immediate need of food, water, shelter, and protection and safety,” said Diedrich.
Civilians have told us they lived through regular airstrikes and punishments by the IS group when trying to flee. Families who have managed to escape the fighting, have told NRC that they saw people being buried alive under airstrikes during the offensive. Many said they were forced to build mud houses because their homes were destroyed. Some have slept in the open.
Parents told NRC their children have not been able to go to school for years.
“When I was growing up, I knew how to read and write and my mother didn’t. Now, I know how to read and write, but my children don’t,” said a displaced mother who told NRC that her children had been out of school for four years due to the conflict.
Civilians living under the IS group’s control in Hawiga and its surrounding areas have not had enough food, water, or electricity for the past three years. Nor have they been able to access medical care, with almost no doctors left in the area and medication largely scarce. Displaced families have told NRC staff that they would need a safe home, clean water, and safe schools for their children before they could return.
No international humanitarian organisation has been able to enter Hawiga, which has been under the control of IS since 2014. Most local aid groups there are no longer functional.
“Once again, innocent Iraqi civilians have lost family members, had their homes destroyed and are left displaced with nothing. Now is the time for the international community, together with Iraqi authorities, to ensure that these individuals are given the critical assistance needed to rebuild their lives,” Diedrich said.
- NRC is currently present at all transit sites in Dibis, Daquq, Maktab Khalid and Topzawa, as well as in Laylan 3 and Daquq camps where hundreds of newly displaced from Hawiga arrive daily.
- In these sites, NRC is distributing immediate relief items (NFI and hygiene items) as well as offering psychosocial support services, helping reunite separated families and working to prevent and responds to gender-based violence.
- NRC has been assisting families coming out of Hawiga since October 2015. We are present in and outside of camps, providing shelter upgrades and distributing mattresses, cooking sets, blankets, jerrycans and hygiene items.
- In camps, NRC has built sanitation facilities and ensured safe water supply is available.
- NRC legal experts are providing support to those who have lost their identity documents.
Note to editors:
- NRC has spokespersons in Iraq available for interviews.
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