Traumatised women and children fleeing fighting between the Iraqi Army and ISIS in Tal Afar district have told Oxfam of how people died after walking for days through the desert in 50C heat to reach safety.
One mother said that the road they took to escape smelled of dead bodies, while another said that she feared her husband had been killed as ISIS took him when they fled.
On Sunday, the Iraqi army launched a major offensive to retake Tal Afar, one of the last cities held by ISIS in the country.
More than 30,000 people have already fled the city, according to the UN, and up to 40,000 remain in and around Tal Afar.
Oxfam’s Amy Christian met people fleeing Tal Afar in an Oxfam supported screening site in Badush, around 60km east of the city, , and she said it was an extremely tough environment.
“The sound of children crying was deafening. Covered in dirt and incredibly thin, they had been through hell to get there,” Ms Christian said.
“The families stayed very close to each other and the women held on tightly to young children and babies. Everyone looked extremely exhausted and clearly traumatised from their experience.
“After days of walking in the blistering heat, they urgently need food, water and shelter.”
People also said that they had run out of food in Tal Afar and had to escape during the night as ISIS was preventing them from fleeing.
Ahlam Ibrahim fled his village near Tal Afar when bombing began.
“We left because we were afraid of the airstrikes. We were so afraid for the children. The road was steep and rocky and old people were dying,” Mr Ibrahim said.
“It was so hard to walk and the road smelled of dead bodies. I lost my voice because I was shouting at my children to stay with me. They were so scared.”
Nahida Ali*, from the same village, said she walked for two days in the blistering heat with no water.
“ISIS took my husband two days ago as we tried to escape. We wanted to leave a month ago but ISIS wouldn’t let us. If they saw a family leaving they would take the men. We saw a lot of people killed, that’s why we were so afraid,” Ms Ali said.
“We are worried they will kill my husband. My son won’t stop crying because ISIS took his father and we don’t know where he is.”
Oxfam is calling on the government of Iraq to ensure that civilians can reach safety and receive the help they urgently need. It is also calling on all parties to the conflict to avoid harming civilians who stay in the city and protect civilian areas and infrastructure – including avoiding the use of explosive weapons with a wide area of affect.
Oxfam Australia’s humanitarian policy advisor Rebecca Barber said the Australian Government committed $110 million over three years in humanitarian assistance for Iraq in late April.
“It is essential that civilians forced to flee the fighting in Tal Afar are treated with respect and supported to get on with their lives as soon as possible,” Ms Barber said.
*Name has been changed.
For interviews, please contact Dylan Quinnell on 0450 668 350 or email@example.com
Donations to support Oxfam’s emergency responses in Tal Afar and around the world can be made online at oxfam.org.au/iraq or by calling 1800 034 034.
Notes to editors:
Oxfam is supporting those fleeing the fighting in Iraq, including around Tal Afar and Mosul, with life-saving food and water both in camps and in communities that have been recently retaken and where families are seeking shelter.
Oxfam is working at the Badush screening site near Tal Afar distributing kits with soap, nappies, underwear and sanitary towels to new arrivals, who are then redirected to a camp. The international agency is also assessing whether the needs of those fleeing the conflict are being addressed.
Oxfam is also supporting civilians who fled the fighting in Mosul. Since the campaign to retake Mosul began, Oxfam has assisted more than 300,000 people affected by the conflict. Oxfam provides life-saving food, water, and protection in camps and neighbourhoods throughout Mosul district. Its work to rehabilitate the Gazlani water plant has established the first native source of clean water in western Mosul city.
View and download photos of Oxfam’s humanitarian work around Mosul: https://wordsandpictures.oxfam.org.uk/pages/search.php?search=%21collection33376&k=4a35d89f0b