Protection of civilians in spotlight as fighting intensifies around Iraq's Telafar
In northern Iraq, with operations having commenced as of Sunday to retake the city of Telafar, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, remains concerned about the protection of Iraqi civilians.
Telafar city, in Ninewa province, some 65 kilometres north-west of Mosul, fell under the control of extremist armed groups in 2014. Its pre-conflict population was thought to be around 200,000. Since April this year, more than 30,000 people fled Telafar district, many living in camps sheltering other displaced families mainly from Mosul.
Humanitarian agencies have been without access to Telafar since 2014, but it’s estimated that thousands of people could still be in the city. Conditions are said to be very difficult, with food and water running out, a lack of electricity and diminishing health facilities. People are said to have been surviving on unclean water and bread for the past three to four months.
Those families who have managed to flee the area have done so at great personal risk. Many talk of seeing dead bodies along the way, and there are reports that some were killed by extremist groups. Others appear to have died due to dehydration or illnesses.
People leaving Telafar are walking long distances to reach safety, without food or water, at times for up to 20 hours and in scorching heat. Temperatures can reach up to 50 degrees Celsius. They are often forced to leave behind their most vulnerable (children, elderly, disabled) who are unable to undertake the arduous journey.
Many arriving at the mustering points (Badoush fuel station, Scorpion Junction, Al Musaid mustering point) are physically exhausted and dehydrated. Large numbers have sustained wounds or injuries from sniper fire and exploding mines.
UNHCR protection partners have been present at the mustering sites, identifying and referring cases in need of specific assistance, such as unaccompanied and separated children.
In the past week, we have received some 1500 families in the Hammam Al Alil transit centre some 20 kilometres south east of Mosul, where overnight shelter and basic assistance is provided.
Additionally, we are finalizing another 1,000 family plots (6,000 people) in a new sector, Al Salamiyah 3 some 25 kilometres south-east of Mosul. The site is expected to open in about 10 days.
UNHCR has also taken over the management of Nimrud camp (about 7 km from Al Salamiya camp) (3,600 family plots) which will be able to receive up to 22,000 displaced people from Telafar in the coming days.
Additionally, around 150 families from Telafar (approximately 900 people) are sheltering in UNHCR camps east of Mosul.
We fear that Iraqi civilians are likely to be held as human shields again and that attempts to flee could result in executions/shootings. We call on all parties to the conflict to allow civilians to leave the conflict area and to access to safety.
We are also concerned about reports that in some instances displaced Iraqi families from Telafar are being denied access to safety in locations that have capacity to absorb them. We are equally worried about continued reports of harassment, revenge attacks and abuse of the displaced people from Telafar. We reiterate our call to the Iraqi authorities to double their efforts to ensure prevention, safe reporting and timely response to such incidents. UNHCR also echoes and supports the high level interventions of the Humanitarian Coordinator.
Across Iraq, more than three million people remain displaced due to conflict. We anticipate further displacement in the coming months as the Iraqi government is moving towards regaining control of extremist-held areas of Hawiga and West Anbar (Al Qa’im, Ana and Ru’aa) which could displace as many as 100,000 people.
UNHCR’s humanitarian operations in Iraq remain critically underfunded. We urgently need US$126m this year for camp construction, support to returnees and winter assistance. A shortage of funding threatens to undermine our humanitarian response.
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