DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Doctors Without Borders said Tuesday that thousands of Iraqi civilians fleeing the besieged city of Fallujah have been without access to medicine for months and are fleeing to areas without adequate water and sanitation, raising the likelihood of epidemics like cholera.
The medical aid group, also known by its French acronym MSF, is assisting around 20,000 civilians from Fallujah who have fled to three main sites. The Islamic State group seized the city more than two years ago.
The head of MSF's mission in Iraq, Fabio Forgione, said families who have fled to camps are facing a lack of shelter and clean drinking water. A cholera outbreak last year infected some 2,800 people in Iraq.
He said doctors are also treating people with conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes who haven't had access to medications. There have also been food shortages reported in the city.
"We are extremely concerned about the situation in Fallujah. We are talking about a city which has been besieged now for months, where access to care, access to food, access to assistance has been extremely hampered," Forgione told The Associated Press in an interview in Dubai.
MSF has deployed mobile health clinics near the front-lines to provide basic services to families who have been able to flee. Fallujah is located 40 miles (65 kilometers) west of Baghdad.
The U.N. estimates about 50,000 civilians are trapped inside the city and that 42,000 people have fled Fallujah since a military operation to retake the city began in late May. Organizations such as MSF and The Norwegian Refugee Council say the number of those who've fled is closer to 30,000, lower than the U.N. estimate.
The conflict in Iraq has forced 3.3 million people to flee their homes. Iraq is also hosting between 250,000-300,000 refugees from neighboring Syria who need medical assistance and mental health care, Forgione said. Most are living in camps or informal settlements.
"This is one of the worst humanitarian crises Iraq has been facing in the last 10 years," he said.
MSF, which operates in more than 60 countries worldwide, has eight international staff and 600 Iraqi nationals working across 11 provinces. They not only assist displaced people, but also plug gaps in the country's strained health sector.