On September 17, nearly four months after the battle for Fallujah began, the first wave of families will be allowed to return home. More than 86,000 people have been living in the desert, enduring the 115-degree heat, waiting for this day to come.
But for these families, coming home will not be easy. They still face many challenges. Here's what you need to know...
1. No one knows exactly how safe Fallujah is right now.
There are conflicting reports on how well the city has been cleared of bombs.
ISIS is notorious for planting improvised explosive devices (IEDs) before being pushed from an area—often attaching them to everyday items that are likely to be picked up by women or children. Earlier this year, families returning to Ramadi (30 miles west of Fallujah) found bombs hidden beneath mattresses, inside bicycle frames, and under children’s toys.
A child's toy in found amid the rubble in Sinjar, northern Iraq
2. The damage to Fallujah is worse than originally thought.
Initially, it was hoped Fallujah had been spared the devastation seen in other areas recently liberated from ISIS. Places like Sinjar, a city of 90,000 in northern Iraq, were almost entirely destroyed.
Destruction in Sinjar, northern Iraq
Fallujah fared somewhat better, but authorities now say up to 1 in 5 structures were damaged or destroyed, more than previously thought. And there is evidence to suggest some of the destruction came after the fighting had ended.
3. For many, the homecoming is still a long way off.
More than 86,000 people fled during the battle this summer. Ensuring a safe, orderly return for all is a logistical challenge, to say the least.
Displaced children in one of the camps near Fallujah
What’s clear is that not everyone will be allowed home all at once. Authorities plan to reopen the city to families in stages. According to our sources, the first group to return will come from a location about 15 miles east of Fallujah, where we brought our first delivery of food and water, just days after the battle began.
What’s less clear is when other families, such as Malak’s, will be allowed to go home. Some families still have a long wait ahead of them in the desert.
As for families whose loved ones are still under investigation—or who happen to be from the “wrong” neighborhood in Fallujah—the wait could be even longer.
4. We’ll be there.
No matter what challenges Fallujah families face, we will be there to meet them together.
Earlier this month, we returned to Fallujah to sit down with government officials for the first gathering of its kind inside the city since it was liberated. Together, we began planning for the return of displaced families.
Fallujah, as seen during our return visit earlier this month
This Saturday, when the very first families return, we’ll be there, ready to provide more than 1,000 “welcome home” kits to ease their transition.
Each kit includes food, shampoo, dishwashing liquid, detergent, sanitary pads, and refugee-made Sisterhood Soap.
Families coming home to Fallujah face a long road. They have virtually nothing left. There is so much rebuilding to be done. Parents need opportunities to earn income again, so they can put the pieces of their lives back together and provide for their families. The underlying issues that left Fallujah's people feeling alone in a sea of enemies for so many years still have to be resolved.
Fallujah is liberated. Families are coming home. But now the real work of unmaking violence begins.
We’ll be there as long as it takes. Go with us.