Fleeing Fallujah: People were shouting, ‘Save us, save us’

Shakir Waheib, a senior member of the Islamic State, on left, next to a burning police vehicle in Iraq's Anbar Province. (AP Photo via militant website)

Families are risking their lives to escape from the embattled Iraqi city of Fallujah. The Islamic State-held city has come under attack by Iraqi forces for the past month, making an already extremely dangerous situation worse for the civilians still trapped in the city. More than 43,000 people have managed to escape the city in the past three weeks, estimates the International Organization for Migration.

One 2-year-old boy died while attempting to leave Fallujah. His father escaped three months ago, and it was his mother’s fifth attempt to flee. A bullet shot by an Islamic State member passed through the mother’s shoulder with him in his arms, killing the boy. Her other four children were unharmed and managed to escape, said the Norwegian Refugee Council. In another incident, three children drowned while traveling in the Euphrates river to get out of Fallujah.

“When the boat I was on reached the middle of the river I heard a lot of screams, another boat was sinking. People were shouting, ‘Save us, save us.’ People jumped from the other side of the river and saved some of those who were drowning, but not my son’s two girls, aged 16 and 8, and his boy aged 5,” Nuriya told Norwegian Refugee Council staff.

Access to food and other basic needs has been difficult for people living in Fallujah since the Islamic State took control of the city in 2014. An estimated 50,000 people are still believed to be trapped in the city. Those who manage to survive the escape are not finding relief. Temperatures are set to exceed 122 degrees while refugee camps are unable to provide basic supplies to the influx of people.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) issued a warning on Tuesday that people displaced from the city do not have access to medicine and adequate sanitation, raising the risk of the spread of disease. Last year, a cholera outbreak infected roughly 2,800 people in Iraq. The medical aid group is concerned a similar outbreak could take place. That is in addition to the lack of support for people suffering from injuries caused by the fighting or living with chronic ailments.

As is often the case when it comes to humanitarian aid in conflict zones – access is difficult, supplies are limited, and there is not enough money.

“We have a humanitarian disaster inside Fallujah and another unfolding disaster in the camps,” said Jan Egeland, secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, in a statement Thursday. “The humanitarian community needs immediate funding to avoid a completely avoidable disaster on our watch.”

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About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.