First Published: 2017-08-22

UN says thousands fleeing Tel Afar amid anti-IS offensive
International Organization for Migration says more than 3,000 people have arrived at two of their emergency sites since Friday.
Middle East Online

It remains unclear how many civilians remain inside ravaged Tel Afar

TAL AFAR - Thousands of civilians have fled Iraq's Tal Afar since an offensive against the jihadist stronghold was launched two days ago, but thousands more remain stuck in the city, the United Nations said Tuesday.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) said its teams were "responding to thousands of civilians fleeing Tal Afar since the launch of the military campaign to retake the city".

The assault on the last major bastion of the Islamic State group in northern Iraq was launched at dawn Sunday, only weeks after Iraqi forces seized the country's second city Mosul from the jihadists.

Since Friday, more than 3,000 people have arrived at two emergency sites run by IOM, many turning up with just the clothes on their back, the UN agency said in a statement.

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said it had received around 1,500 families, or some 9,000 people, from Tel Afar at the Hamman Al Alil transit centre in the past week.

And it said it was preparing to accommodate nearly 30,000 more people displaced from the city in the coming days.

Tel Afar was once home to around 200,000 people, but it remains unclear how many civilians remain inside the ravaged city, with humanitarian actors unable to gain access since it was seized by IS in 2014.

- Human shields? -

UNHCR said it estimated that thousands of people could still be in the city, warning that civilians are likely to be held as "human shields again" by IS fighters, as was the case in Mosul.

Conditions inside the city are believed to be "very difficult," UNHCR said in a statement, pointing to diminishing food, water and health facilities and a lack of electricity.

"People are said to have been surviving on unclean water and bread for the past three to four months," it said.

Families who flee also face huge risks, with many reporting seeing dead bodies along the way, some believed to have been killed by extremist groups and others likely dying from dehydration or illnesses, UNHCR said.

Many are forced to walk long distances to reach safety "without food or water, at times for up to 20 hours and in scorching heat," the agency said, in an area where temperatures can reach 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit).

UNHCR said many children, elderly and other vulnerable people are being left behind in Tal Afar since they are unable to make the arduous journey.

Among those who do make it to safety, many suffer from dehydration and large numbers are suffering wounds from sniper fire and exploding mines, it said.

 

Lebanon’s Hariri suspends resignation

Divided Syria opposition meets in Riyadh

Revolt in US State Department over child soldier law

US carries out air strikes against IS in Libya

Morocco bans bitcoin transactions

Saudi-led coalition to reopen Yemen airport, port to aid

Turkey court rules to keep Amnesty chief in jail

France calls for UN meeting on Libya slave-trading

Egypt detains 29 for allegedly spying for Turkey

WTO panel to hear Qatar’s complaint against UAE blockade

Three dead as diphtheria spreads in Yemen

Israel seizes explosive material at Gaza border

Activists call for release of UK journalist held by IS

Bahrain upholds jail sentence for activist

Iraq attacks at lowest since 2014

Turkey continues crackdown in post-coup probe

Hariri back in Lebanon

Putin to hold Syria peace talks with Erdogan, Rouhani

Lebanon's Hariri in Egypt ahead of return home

Rebels say Sanaa airport 'ready to run' after coalition bombing

Greece to amend historic sharia law for Muslim minority

Turkey to ask Germany to extradite top coup suspect

Car bomb in northern Iraq kills at least 24

13 million Syrians need aid despite relative drop in violence

Sudan urged to improve plight of Darfur's displaced people

Brain drain means Syria can’t recover for a generation

Palestinians close communication lines with Americans

Anti-IS coalition strikes drop to lowest number

German police arrest six Syrians ‘planning terror attack’

Palestinian factions in Cairo for reconciliation talks

Turkish opposition daily web editor sentenced to 3 years in jail

Israeli police arrest 33 in ultra-Orthodox draft riots

Turkish lira at new low against US dollar

Islamic republic declares end of Islamic State

Assad in Russia for talks with Putin

UN chief horrified by Libya slave auctions

Qatar 2022 chief has no regrets over hosting World Cup

Gheit says Lebanon should be 'spared' from regional tensions

Saudi Arabia, Arab allies push for unity against Iran, Hezbollah meddling

Syria ‘de-escalation zone’ does nothing to stop civilian deaths

Is a demilitarised Palestinian state a viable option?

S&P affirms good Saudi credit ratings

Israel president faces big backlash over Palestinian scarf

Sudan leader to visit Russia Thursday

Seven years into Libya’s civil war, the chaos continues