One of the most underreported stories by the news media is the displacement of 13,000 inhabitants of Fallujah and Ramadi amidst fighting between Iraqi Security Forces and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), who now control much of the Anbar province. This is the first time since 2004 that militants have gained such a sizable foothold in a major Iraqi city.
The growing conflict in the Anbar province has added to the regional humanitarian crisis. However, several villages have welcomed the fleeing residents of Fallujah and Ramadi and the UNHCR stands ready with the bare essentials like blankets, plastic tarpaulins, kitchen sets, sleeping mats, and hygienic supplies.
NGOs responding to the crisis note the situation will only get worse as operations and the fighting continues. The situation in Fallujah is particularly concerning due to diminishing stocks of food, water, and medicine, which have begun to run out.
The violence in Fallujah and Ramadi has added to the 1.13 million internally displaced people inside of Iraq that fled during the 2006-2008 sectarian violence.
Meanwhile, in northern Iraq another round of Syrian refugees came streaming across the border into the Kurdistan region as the Kurdistan Regional Government reopened the border at Peshkhabour. Over 2,500 crossed the border by barge. The border had been closed since mid-September; prior to its closure, over 60,000 Syrians entered into the Kurdistan region of Iraq seeking aid and shelter from the violence and the elements. On the morning of the 7th of January, several thousand Syrians were gathered on the Syrian side of the crossing, but none crossed the border.
Winter has also added to the crisis with temperatures averaging near freezing for the month of December. Many of the Syrian refugees entered into Iraq with only the clothes on their backs during the hot summer months and found themselves ill prepared for the harsh cold winter ahead. Organizations like the UNHCR have made a great deal of progress in distributing winterization supplies. UNICEF has also provided children with warm clothes and boots for the most vulnerable of refugees, babies, and children up to age 13. In December, UNCHR purchased floor insulation materials and tent winterization kits and completed 12 humanitarian flights from Erbil to inaccessible parts of Syria.