Iraq announces intent to close all displaced camps across the country

Government has shut 10 camps so far but many fear the danger for those returning home with perceived ISIS ties

FILE PHOTO: Displaced Iraqi children from the minority Yazidi sect, who fled the Iraqi town of Sinjar, play at the Khanki camp on the outskirts of Dohuk province, July 31, 2019. Picture taken July 31, 2019.  REUTERS/Ari Jalal/File Photo
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Iraq is pushing to close all displacement camps housing IDPs and facilitate the safe return of people to their areas of origin, despite warnings that going home may put people in danger.

Nearly four years after the defeat of ISIS, more than a million Iraqis are still displaced and hundreds of thousands are in camps across the country.

“The Ministry of Migration and Displaced presented to the Cabinet a detailed report on plans to support the dignified and voluntary return of all IDPs to their home and to close down all IDP camps,” the government said in a statement.

It is a key issue of the government’s program, it said.

Migration Minister, Ivan Faiek Jabru, said on Thursday that 10 camps were closed in a number of areas across the country and additional camps will be closed in the coming days.

Ms Jabru said camps in Baghdad and the southern city of Karbala have all closed.

She announced the closure of Al Nabi Younis camp in Baghdad capital as all displaced people were able to return home in Mosul, Tel Afar and Al Hamdanyia districts in the northern Nineveh governorate.

"The last camp in Karabala was shut this week after nearly 560 displaced persons returned to their homes in Mosul and Tel Afar,” Ms Jabru said.

The ministry was able to complete a security audit and managed to ensure the families' safe return, she said.

“The issue of those displaced is the government’s top priority due to the humanitarian aspects it entails, in addition to resolving it, it contributes to strengthening peace in society,” she said.

But there are fears by families with perceived ISIS ties, who not only face the formal obstacles to return but may also be rejected by the community when they go back.

“The issue of security has arisen because of the remaining ISIS cells and the issue of revenge from certain communities for those who are perceived to be linked to the insurgents,” Ali Al Bayati, a member of the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights, told The National.

The Commission recommended that the government must provide protection for those returning home and ensure its public services are adequately working in liberated areas.

About 6 million Iraqis, 15 per cent of the population, were forced from their homes during the conflict with ISIS between 2014 and 2017, according to the UN.

It is still unclear what steps the government has taken to really address the barriers that have heretofore prevented the return of many displaced Iraqis.

It is still unclear what steps the government has taken to really address the barriers that have heretofore prevented the return of many displaced Iraqis, Sam Heller, adviser to the International Crisis Group, told The National.

"It's so important that there be advance work in these communities to reconcile them to the return of these displaced families, and that returns be truly voluntary," Mr Heller said.

"If these home communities haven't come to terms with the return of displaced people with perceived affiliations, I don't know how much Iraqi authorities can actually protect returnees," he said.

Many of the displaced people cannot return home due to the government’s lack of action to re-construct war torn areas that were damaged during the battle against ISIS.

Many of their homes remain in ruins, public services and health care are inaccessible and unemployment is high. Some families believe that in a camp they have shelter and receive a regular package of rations.

But Mr Al Bayati said the government may also be interested in ensuring that upcoming elections will be held on time rather than alleviating the suffering of displaced Iraqis and returning them safely home.

“We are worried about the government’ misuse of this for their own political interest as the elections are approaching so they are overlooking the humanitarian issue,” he said.

Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi, who assumed office in May, vowed to hold early elections as part of his government plan.

Elections are expected to take place next June.