London- Ever since State of Law Coalition leader Nouri al-Maliki asked the militias of the Popular Mobilization Forces to join the operation to retake the Iraqi city of Fallujah from ISIS, international organizations began to shout out loud over the fate of residents after sporadic shelling put their lives at risk.
As the militias approached the besieged city, the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross made urgent appeals to save civilians and open humanitarian corridors.
The Norwegian Refugee Council in Iraq estimated in a new report issued on the situation of Fallujah that up to 50,000 civilians are believed to be trapped inside.
According to the report, 36 families arrived on Wednesday from Fallujah’s suburbs to safer areas. They are in a state of fear and shock because of the shelling and the violent clashes taking place there.
Initial reports from inside Fallujah say that around half of the population have escaped towards al-Azrakiyeh neighborhood. They are in very bad circumstances and are seeking hard to leave the area safely.
In remarks to Asharq Al-Awsat, Media and Communications Officer at the NRC Elias Abu Ata said: “Only one family was able to escape from Fallujah last week.”
“As for the second family, which arrived from the city’s suburbs and its members escaped barefoot, it took different roads” to reach its destination.
“Because of the heavy shelling, it is impossible to send aid workers to help the civilians get out of there, particularly that the roads leading to Fallujah are very dangerous,” he said.
“The families are our priority,” Ata said when asked about fears that extremists will infiltrate the displacement camps where the families have taken refuge.
According to the NRC, the humanitarian situation in the city is desperate. Iraqi forces are now converging on it from three different directions.
“There are thousands trapped in Fallujah with intense fighting raging on their doorsteps,” said NRC’s Country Director in Iraq Nasr Muflahi.
“Families who have been suffering food and medical shortages over the last months now risk being caught in the crossfire and it is absolutely vital that they are granted safe routes out of there so that we can assist them. All parties to this conflict have to provide safe exits for civilians,” he said.
Becky Bakr Abdulla of the NRC, who is on the ground in Iraq, met some of the families who escaped and are staying in displacement camps in Amiryiat Al Fallujah, 30 kilometers away.
Their testimonies reveal the real nightmare of the people trying to survive inside the warzone.
“One woman told me that she and her family escaped under the dark of night,” recalled Bakr Abdulla.
“They took off their slippers to make less noise. They hid in big drainage pipes, before running to the border raising white flags made of cloth,” she added.