Baghdad (Iraq) The capture of a central Iraqi town of Heet over the weekend by Islamic State (IS) militants and affiliated armed groups caused an estimated 180,000 people to flee, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said on Tuesday.
Heet, located some 180 km to the west of the capital Baghdad, used to be a safe haven for those who had fled earlier waves of violence in Ramadi, Fallujah and other parts of Anbar province which borders Syria, and provided shelter for some 100,000 displaced people.
But the latest IS military offensive triggered a fresh wave of displacements that led residents there flee to other places in Anbar and further a field in Baghdad.
“The exodus from Heet represents the fourth major wave of displacement in less than a year in Iraq, and for many of those caught up in it, it is the second, third or even fourth time that they have had to flee since January,” Melissa Fleming, UNHCR spokesperson, told a press conference.
“Tens of thousands of desperate Iraqis are now caught in a rolling wave of multiple displacements amidst the conflict’s shifting frontlines,” she added.
UNHCR said that an estimated 1.8 million citizens have been internally displaced this year throughout Iraq, in addition to around a million existing internally-displaced persons who had fled violence in previous years.
The UN refugee agency is sending relief items including mattresses, jerry cans, and blankets to those displaced, but it highlighted that humanitarian access to large parts of Anbar province is extremely limited by the conflict.
Meanwhile, UNHCR drew attention to the increasing number of Syrian Kurds taking shelter in northern Iraq after having fled the besieged border town of Kobane in Syria.
Statistics from the agency showed that some 5,400 Syrians from Kobane have now entered Iraq via Turkey, including 3,600 people in the last three days, and another 10,000 to 15,000 people are expected to cross in the coming days.
The security situation has deteriorated drastically in Iraq since June 10, when bloody clashes broke out between Iraqi security forces and hundreds of IS militants, who took control of the country’s northern city of Mosul and later seized swathes of territories after Iraqi security forces abandoned their posts in Nineveh and other predominantly Sunni provinces. /End/