Irbil, Iraq, September 21, 2017 — In reaction to the start of the battle to retake the remaining ISIS stronghold of Hawija, International Rescue Committee’s Iraq acting Country Director Jason Kajer said:
“Civilians trapped in Hawija have been living under harsh ISIS rule since 2014 and have waiting for more than a year for the battle to retake their town to begin. “Over 100,000 people have fled Hawija since August 2016. Supply routes have been cut since last July and conditions in the town are now dire. People have been living for many months without access to adequate food, drinking water or medicine. It is reported that those recently displaced are showing signs of malnutrition.
The 85,000 civilians still in and around Hawija, including some 40,000 children, now face a terrifying time as they worry about getting caught up in the fighting or being hit by an airstrike. For those who decide to flee there is a significant risk of being targeted by ISIS snipers or killed by a mine. We have seen the impact on civilians in the fight to retake Mosul and it is vital that as the battle unfolds forces do all in their power to keep civilians safe.
Escape routes out of the town are blighted by mines, adding further danger for those that have already experienced great hardship. One grandmother previously told the IRC that after living under ISIS for more than two years, she sold her family’s gold to pay $1,000 to smugglers to get them out of the town.
“Life in Hawija was very hard - we had nothing to eat. There was no water, no electricity. We didn’t even have soap to clean ourselves.”
The battle for western Anbar, near the Syrian border, has also begun.
As forces close in on the town of Ana it is thought 6,000 people could be forced to flee their homes. IRC spoke to one man who fled from the town to Ramadi earlier this year:
“In the last few months, we couldn’t even reach the main door of our house because ISIS was watching us. They started to accuse anyone of anything as revenge because they were suffering from air strikes. You can only imagine what it is like to hear air strikes on a daily basis. When the children heard the planes, they put their hands over their ears. Until we reached Ramadi they slept with their hands over their ears.”
The IRC has been supporting people fleeing Hawija since 2016. In Kirkuk and Salah al-Din, the IRC has provided over 30,000 people with vital access to cash and has given a further 54,000 people living in camps and unable to access shops basic supplies including toothbrushes, clothing and bedding. Additionally, the IRC has supported over 3,300 people to secure identification documents so they are able to access to government support. The IRC is also supporting people who are fleeing western Anbar with cash assistance and protection services.
The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises, helping to restore health, safety, education, economic wellbeing, and power to people devastated by conflict and disaster. Founded in 1933 at the call of Albert Einstein, the IRC is at work in over 40 countries and 28 offices across the U.S. helping people to survive, reclaim control of their future, and strengthen their communities. Learn more at www.rescue.org and follow the IRC on Twitter & Facebook.