Yacob fled IS territory in Anbar province to save his 14 year-old grandson from being forcefully recruited by IS. “We didn’t make it to this place without seeing death with our own eyes a thousand times,” he said. Even for those who make it back to their homes, threats to their safety prevail. Photo: Melany Markham/NRC

Displaced Iraqis forced to return to destruction left in wake of war on ISIS

Published 28. Feb 2018|Edited 27. Feb 2018
Displaced face desolation, reprisal and even death in home areas, others have no home to return to.

BAGHDAD – The majority of Iraqis currently displaced in Anbar by the war against the so-called Islamic State (IS) feel safer in camps than back home aid agencies warned today, amid moves by Iraqi authorities to return thousands of families to their places of origin, at times with fatal consequences.

“It’s tragic to think that people feel safer in camps than in their homes when this conflict has supposedly ended,” said Country Director of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) in Iraq, Petr Kostohryz. “People are afraid of retribution, unexploded bombs, or simply have nowhere to return to. There can be no hope for peace in Iraq if the authorities cannot guarantee that people can go back home safely.”

Since the Government of Iraq announced the defeat of IS, over two million Iraqis remain in displacement. Around 9,000 people were forced from displacement camps back to their homes in Anbar between November and December 2017 and other displaced people in Baghdad governorate have been ordered to return to their homes.

“The Long Road Home”, a report compiled by the Danish Refugee Council (DRC), the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and NRC, includes interviews with people living in displacement camps in Anbar and found that:

 - 84 per cent felt safer in their current camps than back home,

 - Only 1 per cent reported knowing that they had homes to return to,

 - More than 50 per cent report that their houses were damaged or totally destroyed; and

- 16% reported that their attempts to return had been blocked.

The report has also found that at least one in five people evicted from Kilo 18 in Anbar returned back to that camp after facing threats and retribution in their area of origin.

“There is a real risk that we will soon see more people pushed to return home before it is safe. Iraqis deserve a secure and permanent home to rebuild their lives and communities. The international community and Government of Iraq need to step up to make areas safe and welcoming for Iraqis who choose to return home,” said IRC’s country director, Wendy Taeuber. “For those who don’t want to go home they need continued support in camps and help to integrate and settle into local communities.”

“We need to prevent the cycle of displacement. While we understand that authorities, and often people, feel they need to return home and normalise their life again, we also know that unless it is done properly it does not amount to a durable solution and will lead to continued displacement and repercussions,’ according to DRC’s country director, Ian Dawes.

The aid agencies call on the authorities to respect the right of Iraqis to choose if and when they return home or, for those who are unwilling or unable to return, support them to find alternative solutions. The agencies also call on the international community to continue funding humanitarian assistance in Iraq as a lack of assistance may push people to return home prematurely.

Read the report The Long Road Home - Achieving Durable Solutions to Displacement in Iraq: Lessons from Returns in Anbar