CIVILIANS fleeing the last Islamic State-held region in Nineveh province are falling victim to the heat, as temperatures rise to 50°C. The UN refugee agency UNHCR said that it was deeply concerned about the humanitarian situation in the region.
A spokesman for the UNHCR, Andrej Mahecic, said on Tuesday that thousands of civilians were thought to be still trapped in Tal Afar, the last stronghold of IS militants after the liberation of Mosul last month. Iraqi troops, backed by US forces, launched an offensive against Tal Afar this week.
“Humanitarian agencies have been without access to Tal Afar since 2014,” Mr Mahecic said, “but it’s estimated that thousands of people could still be in the city.
“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 Tal Afar 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°C. They are often forced to leave behind their most vulnerable — children, elderly, disabled — who are unable to undertake the arduous journey.”
Three million people have been displaced in Iraq owing to conflict. The Christian charity World Vision said that its staff were supporting 350,000 refugees in camps in the Mosul region, half of whom are children.
World Vision International’s Program Officer, Anna Zuegner, who works in the camps, said: “Children are confined to their tents and spend the days waiting for nightfall to bring a slight drop in temperature. . .
“Sadly, international donors quickly shifted their attention to other crises when the battle to retake Mosul began. But the humanitarian crisis is far from over. Armed groups have committed a catalogue of atrocities in Iraq. The families we support are too frightened to return home. Many simply have no home to return to.”
Fighting still continues in pockets in Mosul and other liberated towns, including Sinjar, where thousands of Yazidi Christians were massacred by militants in 2014. The emergency-relief organisation Mediar has been running mobile clinics in the region, but, although militants were forced out of Sinjar town in 2015, some fighting continued in the region. Medair has now opened its first health-care clinic in Sinjar town.
“We have been supporting people in the area, and were finally able to reach Sinjar town,” Medair’s Country Director, Hector Carpintero, said. “On our first visit, we learned that the hospital had been damaged, and that no other health facility was operating. Our team was eager to open a clinic and support families who are trying to start over in Sinjar.”
Residents are now beginning to return to Sinjar at a rate of 50 families a day.