UN 'gravely' concerned for safety of IDPs forced from camps in Iraq

Only two-thirds of those evicted have reached their areas of origin, with the rest unable to return home

Only two-thirds of internally displaced Iraqis have returned to their areas of origin after thousands were forced to leave IDP camps by authorities, the UN has said.

The rest ended up in other areas.

Last month, the Iraqi government started a campaign to close down camps that have hosted millions of Iraqis displaced by ISIS since mid-2014. The move came despite warnings from local and international organisations that evicting families from the camps could place them in danger.

“I am gravely concerned,” UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator, Irena Vojackova-Sollorano said on Monday.

“This is not about camp closures. It is about what will happen to those Iraqis, their safety, their well-being and their future,” she added.

Since the campaign started, she said, 11 camps have been closed or consolidated, with two others reclassified as informal, affecting more than 27,000 people – about 78 per cent of them are women and children.

About 30 per cent of those returned do not have “safe or dignified housing and remain highly vulnerable,” Ms Vojackova-Sollorano said.

The main obstacles for those who have not been able to return are social tensions, insecurity, unexploded ordinances and explosive remnants of war, she added. Other challenges include lack of civil documentation, housing, services, cash assistance and livelihood opportunities.

“Their well-being is of particular concern in light of the continuing Covid-19 pandemic and the onset of winter,” she said.

The UN has reiterated that the return of IDPs “needs to be voluntary, safe, dignified, and informed, with conditions in place in advance in their areas of origin to enable reintegration and ensure sustainable solutions.”

ISIS occupation and the more than three-year fight to drive the militants out of the country displaced more than 3.5 million people. Many started to return after the final defeat of ISIS in late 2017. The current number of internally displaced people in Iraq stands at nearly 1.3 million, according to the International Organisation for Migration.

In statement to a local media outlet, the Minister of Migration and Displacement defended the government move, saying all IDPs left voluntarily.

For those who can’t return to their areas due to demolished properties or tribal conflicts because of their ISIS affiliations, the Ministry and UN will rent houses for them in other areas until it is safe to return, Minister Evan Jabro said.

Ms Jabro put the number of closed camps at 17, adding that more will be followed in the coming days.

The government has argued that one of the reasons behind the closure is to have these families cast their ballots in the coming elections, planned for next June, in their areas instead of in the camps.

In 2018 national elections, displaced people voted from their camps for candidates in their areas, but the vote was marred by allegations of fraud, prompting authorities to cancel some of the ballots.

Twenty-six other camps in the northern Kurdish region hosting mainly Yazidis will remain open.