Iraq News
Human Rights

Iraqi forces evacuate families from Fallujah

By Khalid al-Taie

Families displaced from Fallujah receive aid in a camp in Ameriyat al-Fallujah. [Photo courtesy of the Iraqi Ministry of Migration and Displacement]

Families displaced from Fallujah receive aid in a camp in Ameriyat al-Fallujah. [Photo courtesy of the Iraqi Ministry of Migration and Displacement]

Despite the imminent danger from all around, hundreds of families besieged in Fallujah have managed to escape from the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL) and safely reach the Iraqi army.

Escapees from al-Hasi, a village to the south of the city, told Mawtani that ISIL had threatened to burn them alive if they tried to leave their homes.

They were saved from this fate by the advance of the Iraqi and popular mobilisation forces, they said, which gave civilians caught in the line of fire a chance to escape.

"When we heard the gunfire increasing, we realised the army was nearby, and we decided to escape to it regardless of the risks," said Umm Widad, 53, who asked that her real name not be used.

"We waited until it was the right time, then my three daughters and I came out with other families waving white flags," she told Mawtani.

Soldiers soon came and transported them away from the battlefield in military trucks, she said, providing the families with food and drinks.

Another escapee, Ahmad Hardan, described life under ISIL as "disastrous".

"They threatened to burn us if we tried to escape," he said. "We were waiting the arrival of the army, and when it arrived we only thought about salvation."

Local residents went hungry under ISIL's siege, he said, with basic food items such as flour and rice becoming scarce and selling at "crazy prices".

"We have suffered for more than two years from the abuse and punishment of terrorists that included killing and showed no mercy for the young or the old," he said.

Hundreds of families evacuated

Iraqi forces were able to evacuate hundreds of families who had been trapped in Fallujah over the last two weeks as gun battles to expel ISIL continued to rage, said the Anbar department of the Ministry of Migration and Displacement.

"We have received more than 600 families from the security forces so far after they escaped combat zones on the outskirts of Fallujah," department official Mohammed Rashid told Mawtani on Monday (June 6th).

"Two months ago, we created eight camps in the town of Ameriyat al-Fallujah that accommodate about 2,000 families of the residents displaced from Fallujah and its outskirts," he said.

"We transported most of the displaced to those camps," he added. "We started providing them with food and shelter kits including blankets, furniture and cooking tools, as well as preparing urgent medical care services."

"These survivors appeared to be in difficult circumstances," he said. "Many of them were sick. We are currently working on registering them as displaced citizens to include them in our programmes for rehabilitation and humanitarian support and to give them financial assistance."

He expected the number of displaced to reach 10,000 families as the fighting approaches Fallujah's city centre, he said, adding that "our preparations are in full swing, and we seek to contain any emergency".

Helping displaced residents

Ameriyat al-Fallujah has dedicated the bulk of its energies to serving fleeing Fallujah residents, local council chairman Shaker al-Issawi told Mawtani.

"We have a good stock of food -- enough for more than 5,000 families," he said. "There is a sufficient number of shelter tents. We also started, with government agencies and humanitarian organisations, to deploy medical teams to care for displaced people and meet their needs."

Populations are continuing to be displaced on the southern hub of Fallujah, he said, with people moving towards al-Salam intersection and from there to Ameriyat al-Fallujah.

"There is a safe corridor opened by the security forces for the escape of families across that axis from the (Fallujah) city centre, as we expect there are at least 20,000 families trapped there," he said.

Iraqi police, the army and the popular mobilisation forces have achieved encouraging results in the battle for Fallujah, said Lt. Col. Sabah al-Issawi, commander of the 3rd Battalion of the Ameriyat al-Fallujah popular mobilisation.

"We are moving very cautiously to maintain the safety of civilians," he told Mawtani.

"During our progress in southern Fallujah, we were able to save about 250 trapped families as we transported them to safe areas and provided them with food, drinks and first aid," he said.

"ISIL elements do not hesitate to open fire on any family trying to escape," he added. "We always try to reach families fleeing before they are targeted."

"A few days ago and during our incursion for a distance of two kilometres in the areas controlled by ISIL, we found five bodies of three women and two children who had been displaced and were killed by roadside mines planted by terrorists to disrupt the progress of our forces," he said.

"We will crush ISIL soon and avenge the victims," al-Issawi added.

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