Sat, Dec 04, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Fallujah refugees face bleak conditions

THE GUARDIAN , BAGHDAD

Aid agencies and UN officials are growing increasingly concerned about the fate of more than 200,000 Iraqis who fled their homes before the US-led assault on Fallujah.

At least 210,000 Iraqis are now living as refugees in deteriorating conditions and are unlikely to be able to return to their badly damaged city for several weeks, according to reports compiled by a UN-led emergency working group.

Families fled to at least nine villages in the desert around Fallujah in the weeks before the assault began last month. Others are staying in Baghdad, often with relatives. At least 100 families are camped out at Baghdad University mosque. Access to the refugees "remains sporadic due to insecurity and military operations," said the latest report.

"Shortages in fresh food items and cooking fuel have also been reported. The temperature has drop-ped, underscoring an urgent need for winterization items and appropriate shelter," it said.

US troops still maintain a tight cordon around Fallujah as they move from house to house, searching for insurgents and arms.

Water and electricity supplies are still cut off and the city's general hospital, the first target seized in the assault, remains under US military control, the report said.

The al-Rawda al-Mohammadia mosque has been turned into an aid center that residents can use for only four hours each morning. One of Fallujah's main health clinics was destroyed in the assault.

In another report two weeks ago, the group suggested that residents would not be allowed to return for some time: "Some reports are now suggesting that return to Fallujah may take a matter of months rather than days, as was previously suggested by multinational forces."

It is believed that residents will be allowed back one area at a time, once their area has been cleared. TV reports from the city suggest that hundreds of homes have been destroyed or severely damaged.

Only the Iraqi Red Crescent society has been able to enter the city, bringing convoys of food, medicine and blankets. The International Committee of the Red Cross said on Thursday that it was ready to send an aid mission, but was waiting for an improvement in security.

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