SEATTLE — On June 21, the U.S. Department of State announced that the government would give an additional $20 million in humanitarian aid to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR) Iraq response. The assistance will be part of a larger package of humanitarian aid for Iraq that will be announced later this year.
The announcement comes in response to the UNHCR’s recent appeals for emergency needs in Fallujah. Iraq’s success in uprooting Islamic State militants from Fallujah has fed a humanitarian crisis with many of the more than 80,000 people who fled the city going without sufficient water and shelter amid 115-degree temperatures and sandstorms.
Nasr Muflahi, the Iraq director of the Norwegian Refugee Council, one the main aid groups helping refugees in Fallujah, said, “The conditions we are seeing in the camps are miserable, the scenes apocalyptic.”
Since 2014, more than 3.3 million Iraqis have been internally displaced and more are expected to flee in the future. Fallujah, located 40 miles west of Baghdad, has been a longtime mainstay of support for Sunni militants and its displaced residents have been subjected to rigorous security screenings. Due to suspected sympathies with the Islamic State, a Sunni extremist group, thousands of Fallujah residents have been banned from seeking refuge with relatives in Baghdad and cities further north.
Sattar Nawrouz, a spokesman for Iraq’s Migration and Displacement Ministry, says, “It’s a very sensitive issue,” acknowledging that security screenings have made it harder to provide services. “But it only takes one terrorist to cause a disaster and kill many people. This is why all sides are being very cautious when checking refugees.”
The most urgent priorities identified by the UNHCR in the Fallujah response are camp coordination, management, and protection. Other immediate needs include food, shelter, water, and sanitation. While humanitarian agencies are responding to the crisis, the State Department recognizes that more funding for humanitarian aid for Iraq is urgently needed.
– Alexis Pierce