Thousands fleeing violence in Ramadi and surrounds struggle to reach safety
This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson William Spindler – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at today's press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.
UNHCR is deeply concerned about the desperate situation for thousands of people fleeing fighting in Ramadi who continue to face challenges reaching safe areas.
An estimated 85,000 people have fled the latest escalation of violence in Ramadi and surrounds since 15 May, according to our partner IOM. The vast majority of this latest wave of displaced - about 85 per cent - remain in Anbar governorate. All together, more than 180,000 people are estimated to have been displaced from the Ramadi area since hostilities began in early April.
Many people are still on the move and UNHCR alongside others in the humanitarian community is striving to locate them, and provide life-saving assistance. Our monitoring teams have found displaced civilians still face serious obstacles at various checkpoints out of Anbar into neighbouring provinces, as local authorities impose restrictions. As it stands, Babylon and Kerbala governorates are closed to displaced people from Anbar.
The Bzebiz bridge, the main entry point from Anbar into Baghdad, was closed for four days at the start of this latest exodus from Ramadi from 15 May, leaving many people stranded daily in soaring temperatures as they waited their turn to have sponsorship arrangements processed. While the bottleneck at the bridge has now eased, our monitoring teams report that the requirement for displaced people to have a local sponsor in Baghdad remains a concern. It hampers swift access to safety, leaves people waiting in searing heat without proper shelter, and makes the displaced vulnerable to exploitation. UNHCR is urging the authorities to address this problem and more broadly to ensure freedom of movement and swift access to safety of all displaced Iraqis citizens.
Onerous requirements for other documentation has also been a concern. Our partners have spent days helping 600 vulnerable people, many with disabilities or serious medical conditions get access to Baghdad governorate. This has involved providing transport back to Amriyat Al-Fallujah hospital to obtain required medical documents to gain access to Baghdad, when authorities were only admitting access for those in need of medical treatment.
Unable to move to other provinces, thousands of displaced people congregated around the city of Al-Khalidiya (east of Ramadi and also the scene of direct fighting in recent weeks) then moved onwards to Al Madina Al Siyahiya (or Tourist City) in Al-Habbaniya and to Amriyat Al-Falujah, where UNHCR has provided aid at collective shelters. But much more support is needed in these districts, where many still live in overcrowded conditions, without access to clean water or proper sanitation.
Some people are moving north towards the cities of Kalar (Diyala governorate) or Kirkuk. With thousands on the move and stiff competition for transport, journeys that would normally take a few hours are taking days. Our teams met with displaced families from Ramadi in the Qoratu camp, in Diyala governorate, who had spent three days stranded at the Kullajo check point, bordering Diayla and Sulyaymaniyah. They were only granted entry to Kalar on condition they would stay at the Qoratu camp, now hosting about 1,500 people. Local authorities in Sulaymaniyah governorate have indicated that displaced people from Ramadi would be denied entry and they must stay in Qoratu camp or return back towards Baghdad.
Conditions are tough in the camp which is already experiencing temperatures of 47 degrees, still some months away from the height of summer. UNHCR is giving out fans as well as sleeping mats, jerry cans and plastic sheets to help reinforce the shade.
Indeed, adequate shelter is one of the key needs for thousands of displaced people, who are out in the heat for long periods -- daily temperatures already exceed 40 degrees. Our current focus is to rapidly develop shelter options for the displaced, including in Baghdad governorate as well as Qoratu camp. We are also working with UN and NGO partners to monitor the dispersion of people and needs at different locations, and identify possible safe locations where temporary settlements can be set up. We are coordinating closely with the government's Joint Coordination and Monitoring Centre to ensure that UN efforts complement those of the Iraqi government in mobilizing the assistance so desperately needed by the displaced people.
Since the beginning of April, UNHCR and its partners have distributed relief items like mattresses, jerry cans and plastic sheeting to more than 33,000 people who have fled their homes in Ramadi, as part of an inter-agency response. We have also given tents and partitioning materials in collective shelters in several locations in Anbar and Baghdad governorates.
The UN continues to advocate for the respect of the fundamental human rights of freedom of movement and access to safety for all Iraqis in flight. Being able to reach a place of safety makes the difference between life and death for desperate displaced people on the move. Once out of the immediate threat of the conflict around them, people do need continuing assistance, including emergency shelter and water and sanitation facilities. They also need access to basic services like education for their children so that they can regain a semblance of normalcy and stability.
For more information on this topic, please contact:
- In Iraq, Bathoul Ahmed, on mobile +964 771 994 5332
- In Geneva, Ariane Rummery, on mobile +41 79 200 7617