More than 10,000 people have fled home in Iraq’s Anbar province in the past month ahead of operations against Islamic State there, a refugee charity said on Thursday.
Thousands of people have arrived in displacement camps near Ramadi since the beginning of October, according to the Norwegian Refugee Council.
“We didn’t make it to this place without seeing death with our own eyes a thousand times,” said Nafa Yacob, who left his own home to prevent his son from being recruited by ISIS.
Mr. Yacob paid smugglers around $400 to secure safe passage. His 13 family members are now living in two tents in a camp for displaced people.
“I used to have USD5,000 before. Maybe now I have USD30 … Now we have lost everything because of the trip. We found it very difficult for my son (who has a severe physical disability) and wife to go to the latrines. We cannot sleep. We cannot afford to go out of the camp,” Mr. Yacob said.
According to the International Organization for Migration, nearly 65,000 people have fled western Anbar this year, and another 75,000 remain in the area, the last major ISIS stronghold in Iraq.
Earlier Thursday, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced start of operations against ISIS in Qaim and Rawa.
The Iraqi Air Force dropped leaflets in the region which read, “your security forces are now coming to liberate you,” a statement from Joint Operations Command said.
Witnesses fleeing the area have reported the recruitment by ISIS of children as young as 11, along with food shortages and human rights violations, according to NRC, which is providing food, water and other assistance to displaced families.
“Displaced people living in Anbar are desperately short of assistance due to lack of resources. Those living in the camps tell us that there aren’t enough latrines and those that do exist and in a dismal state. Many of those living in the camps cannot go home and will be there for months, if not years to come,” NRC Advocacy Manager Alexandra Saieh said.
Ms. Saieh noted that only 62 percent of the funding for the Iraq Humanitarian Response Plan has been received, and food, water and hygiene are only 42 percent funded.
“The end result of under-funding is that people who have fled this conflict have to endure inhumane conditions – not enough clean water to drink or toilets to use,” Ms. Saieh said.