Fam­i­lies from Iraq’s Fal­lu­jah flee one hell to find an­other

Pakistan Observer - - INTERNATIONAL -

HABBANIYAH (Iraq)—They fled star­va­tion and ji­hadist tyranny in Fal­lu­jah for the safety of dis­place­ment camps but thou­sands of Iraqi fam­i­lies still have noth­ing to eat and nowhere to sleep.

“The gov­ern­ment told us to leave our homes, so we did. The way they de­scribed it, we were go­ing to find heaven,” said Ayyub Yusef, a 32-yearold from Fal­lu­jah.

“I don’t re­gret leav­ing be­cause we would have died there. Here, we are alive, just about, but it’s re­ally just an­other kind of hell,” he said.

Yusef, his wife and two chil­dren are among the tens of thou­sands of Fal­lu­jah res­i­dents who have fled the gov­ern­ment’s op­er­a­tion against the Is­lamic State (IS) group in the city.

More than 60,000 peo­ple have been forced from their homes in the area over the past month and a sud­den in­flux of civil­ians pour­ing out of the city cen­tre last week has left the aid com­mu­nity un­able to cope.

Yusef’s fam­ily was re­jected from sev­eral camps that were al­ready full and washed up on the shores of Lake Habbaniyah, where yet an­other camp was be­ing erected.

He had not been given a tent yet and had been left to sleep out­side with his fam­ily for four nights.

“My par­ents fi­nally got a tent in an­other camp, so we will try to reach them to sleep with them tonight,” he said.

As the blis­ter­ing sun set on the lake, once a cov­eted hol­i­day spot in Iraq, men swarmed round a truck to col­lect tent poles and tar­pau­lins.

“We were ex­pect­ing some kind of ac­com­mo­da­tion at least but we were given noth­ing. Now we have to erect our own tents,” said 49-year-old Taresh Farhan, bang­ing on the can­vas and poles with his fist to straighten them out.

One young woman was fu­ri­ous.

“We had to live through the tyranny of Daesh (IS) and now it’s just an­other in­jus­tice,” she said, de­clin­ing to give her name.

“Five days here and noth­ing to eat, not even a bot­tle of wa­ter... This camp is just like the rest of Iraq, if you don’t have con­nec­tions, you will get noth­ing,” she said.

“Shame on them, there is no bath­room for the women... We have to go in the desert,” said the woman, her eyes blaz­ing with rage through the slit of her niqab face veil.

At an­other, rapidly ex­pand­ing camp in Khaldiyeh fur­ther along the shores of Lake Habbaniyah, an NGO called Preemp­tive Love Coali­tion de­liv­ered ba­sic foods.

For many of the re­cently dis­placed Fal­lu­jah res­i­dents there, it was the first dis­tri­bu­tion they had seen.

They queued pa­tiently as gusts of warm wind cloaked the camp in orange dust.

“The last days in Fal­lu­jah, we were cut­ting grass in the street to eat it,” said Hamde Bedi, a 41-year-old woman preg­nant with her eighth child.

Her fam­ily had been dis­placed sev­eral times over since the launch of the gov­ern­ment’s of­fen­sive to re­take the IS bas­tion a month ago.

Prime Min­is­ter Haider alAbadi de­clared victory last week af­ter the na­tional flag was raised above the main gov­ern­ment com­pound.

Se­cu­rity forces con­tinue to bat­tle ji­hadists in north­ern neigh­bour­hoods of the city but the big­gest cri­sis the gov­ern­ment faces now is hu­man­i­tar­ian.

“What we’re see­ing is the con­se­quence of a de­layed and heav­ily un­der­funded re­sponse with an ex­treme toll on the civil­ians flee­ing from one night­mare and liv­ing through an­other one,” the Iraq chief of the Nor­we­gian Refugee Coun­cil, Nasr Mu­flahi, said on Tues­day.

“Fal­lu­jah may have been re­taken but its cit­i­zens are fac­ing a catas­tro­phe,” he said.

Many of the most re­cently dis­placed fam­i­lies are with­out their men, who are of­ten kept for days by the se­cu­rity forces for screen­ing be­cause IS mem­bers have been try­ing to sneak out by blend­ing in with flee­ing civil­ians. Hamde’s hus­band Yasser was re­leased on Sun­day af­ter four days.

“We had man­aged to flee the Jolan neigh­bour­hood be­cause my wife is in the fi­nal stages of preg­nancy.

We asked Daesh (IS) per­mis­sion to go to hospi­tal and they agreed,” he said. “When we got out of hospi­tal, we didn’t re­turn and we fled. We walked for seven hours. I had to carry my wife across canals. We were also car­ry­ing my dis­abled son,” Yasser Abed said.—AFP

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