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Fallujah's Refugees

By Dahr Jamail

09 December, 2004

“Iraq is burning with wrath, anger and sadness…the people of Fallujah are dear to us. They are our brothers and sisters and we are so saddened by what is happening in that city.”

There are no words better to describe the situation in Iraq, and particularly Fallujah, than these of Dr. Wamid Omar Nathmi, a senior political scientist at Baghdad University.

With over 300,000 homeless residents of Fallujah scattered about central Iraq, daily life for these refugees is a reality filled with searching for food, medical attention, warmth and clean water.

Mohammad Ali is a refugee at a camp on the Baghdad University campus. He was crying when I interviewed him, his large body shuddering as he lamented his situation.

“We did not feel that there is Eid after Ramadan this year because of our situation being so bad. All we have is more fasting.”

A man with one leg sitting near the mosque nodding while he smokes his cigarette while Mohammad continues, “I would like to ask the whole world-why is this? I tell the presidents of the Arab and Muslim countries to wake up! Wake up please! We are being killed, we are refugees from our houses, our children have nothing-not even shoes to wear! Wake up! Wake up!”

He was weeping even more when he added, “I left Fallujah yesterday and I am handicapped. I asked God to save us but our house was bombed and I lost everything.”

Another man, Khalil, pointed to several nearby children at the camp and said, “Eid is over. Ramadan is over-and the kids are remaining without even a smile. They have nothing and nowhere to go. We used to take them to parks to amuse them, but now we don’t even have a house for them.”

He continued while pointing at the children, along with some women nearby, “What about the children? What did they do? What about the women? I can’t describe the situation in Fallujah and the condition of the people-Fallujah is suffering too much, it is almost gone now.”

He then explained, “We got some supplies from the good people of Baghdad, and some volunteer doctors came on their own with some medicines, but they ran out daily because conditions are so bad. We saw nothing from the Ministry of Health-no medicines or doctors or anything.”

He said those who left Fallujah did not think they would be gone so long, so they brought only their summer clothes. Now it is quite cold at night, down to 5 degrees C at night and windy much of the time. Khalil added, “We need more clothes. It’s a disaster we are living in here at this camp. We are living like dogs and the kids do not have enough clothes.”

It’s a situation similar to that in most of the refugee camps I’ve seen here.

But there is a small light amidst this darkness. One international organization in particular, which shall remain nameless, managed to raise funds to support many of the refugees of Fallujah.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, two of the doctors who are receiving financial donations from the organization have told of their accomplishments to date. Under their supervision and assistance, small relief groups have worked tirelessly to distribute the supplies provided with the international donations.

At the aforementioned camp alone, thanks to donations this group managed to send to Baghdad, over $500 worth of blankets, sweaters for children, and gas heaters were provided.

Over $1,500 worth of blankets, heaters and portable stoves were distributed to another four refugee camps in Baghdad as well.

A team of volunteer Iraqi doctors was quickly organized to purchase needed medications to treat refugees. The most common problems in the camps are influenza, pneumonia, colds, diarrhea and other water borne diseases.

Water tanks, pipes, water pumps, and water purification materials are needed desperately in most refugee camps. Over $3,000 of donations have been used to supply a refugee camp in Baghdad with what they need to provide potable water. Of course, much more is needed.

Now, well over $9,000 of general antibiotics like cipro, tagamet and amoxicillin have been distributed. Needles, sterile gloves, pain medications, gauze and basic first aid materials have also been provided to three different refugee camps and used to treat suffering refugees by small groups of volunteer doctors.

Relief volunteers have even managed to get trunk loads of medicines and supplements to camps outside of Baghdad.

A doctor in Amiriyat al-Fallujah who received much needed medicines and supplies was brimming with gratitude.

The main hospital there where he works, is struggling to treat 1,500 patients each day. Before the small city was inundated with refugees, the hospital saw just 300 patients per day.

“With hundreds of refugee families here, we have not been able to treat the people. I can’t thank you enough for this. These are exactly the supplies we need,” he told the volunteers who brought the medicine, “It is a good start, but of course we can use more, because we are running out of medicines every day.”

In addition to this, volunteers have plans in the works to make a another delivery there soon.

Over $1,500 was used to purchase 250 warm blankets and 50 gas heaters for a large refugee camp near Fallujah.

Another $5,000 has provided portable kerosene heaters, cooking stoves, and fuel. These have been distributed mainly at the Al-Amiryah mosque-the main one there that is next to the bomb shelter memorial-which is where they are distributing these supplies to refugees staying in that area. These have been critical with the cold weather now in Baghdad.

Some of the last refugees to leave their homes are in Husabe, a small city not far from Fallujah. 234 refugees there who arrived 11 days ago received $2,000 worth of blankets, heaters, food and jackets.

While needs are assessed, more of this money is being spent in camps where there continues to be little or no relief from the Ministry of Health. With most NGO’s having left Iraq because of the security situation, this grass-roots effort has filled some of the huge gaps left in their absence.

“I’ve been praying for someone to help us here,” said Suthir, a mother of six small children at a refugee camp in the Amiryah district of Baghdad. “And God has taken care of us now. We’ve been so cold at night, but now we finally have a heater.”











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