Voices from Falluja

Updated 4:15 AM EDT, Tue May 31, 2016
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Story highlights

Iraqi troops are battling to liberate the ISIS stronghold of Falluja

Some 50,000 trapped residents are feeling the brunt of the attacks, after months of siege

CNN —  

Those fleeing Falluja take almost nothing but risk everything.

They describe a city without basic needs, where babies are born to a world without food and those in pain go to a hospital and get amputations instead of anesthetics.

Their city has been an ISIS stronghold for months and is now in the crossfire of a major military operation – Iraqi forces, backed by the United States-led coalition, are trying to liberate Falluja from the terror group’s grasp.

Some 50,000 people are that remained are trapped and in danger, according to a United Nations estimate.

Hundreds have already fled the city and the surrounding area since the Falluja offensive began last week.

More than 500 families have arrived in displacement camps outside the city, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) said, including almost 300 since Sunday afternoon alone. All the recent arrivals are from Jumeila on the city’s outskirts.

Here are some of their stories, as relayed by the Norwegian Refugee Council, which only released first names of those it interviewed.

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Mohammed

Mohammed, his wife and three children in the displacement camp of Amiriyat Al Fallujah
Norwegian Refugee Council
Mohammed, his wife and three children in the displacement camp of Amiriyat Al Fallujah

Mohammed, his wife and three children chose to leave a few days before the operation began.

They left at 2 a.m. All they took were their IDs.

“We walked all night through water networks,” he said. “When we got out of the water we kept walking with our wet clothes. We still have them on as we did not bring clothes.”

Conditions are dire in Falluja, he says.

“Hunger was our main motive to flee, as well as the constant fear of ISIS,” he said.

Families flee as battle for Falluja rages on

There’s a shortage of food and medicine, and the water they drink comes from the river, which he says is “considered better than the water from the agricultural water network. Those channels are salty, dirty and they found animal carcasses floating in them.”

“Last time we ate rice was four months ago, but we were not the worst off. Others have had no food for much longer. For the past months we fed on dried dates. ISIS controls all the dates business in the market. It was rotting, stale dates that we could find, so we had to dry it in the sun to remove the bad smell before eating it. Sometimes it was still impossible to eat and we used it as animal feed.”

He feels safe now that he’s reached the refugee camp.

“It’s the best thing that happened to me and my family and for the rest of the people who made it out with us,” he said.

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Aus, Mohammed and Ishwaq

Aus, 7, sleeping on his mother's lap at a refugee camp in Iraq
Norwegian Refugee Council
Aus, 7, sleeping on his mother's lap at a refugee camp in Iraq

Ishwaq, her four young children and husband were able to bring a bit more on their journey – two towels, one bag, and like Mohammed’s families, their IDs.

They ran for three hours straight in order to reach a safe place.

“My feet were very painful and tired after having to run all night,” Mohammed, 9, said.

“In Fallujah we lived in constant fear of our lives and we heard and saw rockets and bombs go off everywhere,” Ishwaq said. “We can finally breathe again, finally sleep again.”

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Suad

Suad and her family survived the crossfire.

As the coalition began its push to take Falluja from ISIS, ISIS gunmen began going to go door to door in the city and yanking men, their wives and children from their homes.

ISIS “kept moving us from one damaged, deserted house to another,” Suad said. She, her husband and her children ran as fast as they could to avoid being shot.

“We tried going back to our house, but when we saw lots of other families fleeing we joined them,” she said. “I was carrying my 2-year-old daughter, Hana, as I ran barefoot to reach the other families. My husband was behind us all the time trying to catch up with us as he can’t run. That’s how we left, taking nothing with us, not even our money. I even forgot to take my mobile phone.”

Eventually, they made it to the refugee camp.

“We feel safe here now,” Suad said. “My children are getting food, and my husband is getting treatment in (the) hospital. I can’t think of anything beyond that. Arriving here safely was what mattered, and it’s a big relief.”

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Baby Yousra and Yasmin

Baby Yousra at a refugee camp in Iraq
Norwegian Refugee Council
Baby Yousra at a refugee camp in Iraq

Baby Yousra, her parents and six siblings arrived at 4 a.m. local time Monday at the camp.

“My baby was born when we did not have any food and still she was a happy child,” Yousra’s mother said. “Now I can finally feed her.”

Yasmin, Yousra’s sister, “is so tired that she can only cry,” their mother said.

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Um Ahmed

Um Ahmed says Falluja is a ghost town.

“Social contact with family and friends has almost come to a halt,” she told the NRC over the phone. “People are not leaving their houses out of fear. I haven’t seen my other relatives in months.”

Food prices are skyrocketing, electricity is lacking and hospitals have run out of supplies, she says.

The doctor that is affiliated with the hospital is an ISIS sympathizer, and refuses to help “ordinary people,” she says.

And treatment options have gotten barbaric.

“Doctors often simply amputate a patient’s arms or legs if they are in pain. There are no anesthetics left in the hospitals,” she said.

“We just want to leave the city,” she said. “We just want to leave.”

CNN’s Ashley Fantz, Mohammed Tawfeeq and Abeer Salman contributed to this report