Nearly 55,000 people have fled Ramadi since militants overran the city, in Iraq's Anbar province, earlier this month, the United Nations reports. Most of those displaced have headed to nearby governates – including Baghdad, about 75 miles to the east. The International Rescue Committee is concerned that indiscriminate security measures are preventing many of them from reaching safety.
“Thousands of people fleeing Ramadi are stuck at checkpoints or being denied entry to safe areas,” said Mark Schnellbaecher, the IRC’s regional crisis response director. “For some people the situation has become so hopeless that they are returning to the conflict in Ramadi.”
IRC staff monitoring the humanitarian situation around Ramadi have found that security checks are being carried out inconsistently, leading to confusion and anguish for those turned away. In some areas a blanket ban has been placed on all adults. In others women and children are permitted to enter, while men are turned back.
“Security checks should never be arbitrary or discriminatory, and every effort should be made to keep families together,” said Schnellbaecher. “Any measures to separate civilians from combatants should be done according to international standards.”
The problem is compounded by a "sponsorship" verification system, which requires that people fleeing for their lives have someone from the local governate vouch for them. The system is leading to serious exploitation, with some “sponsors” selling their sponsorship for up to $700. Not only does paying for sponsorship undermine its security credentials, Schnellbaecher explained, it also forces an unacceptable financial burden on displaced Iraqis who will need their savings to provide for their families.
IRC teams are speaking with people uprooted by the violence in Ramadi to learn what emergency support they may need, such as food, water and medical attention.