Nearly five years after largescale military operations against the Islamic State (IS) group ceased, 1.18 million Iraqis remain internally displaced and face specific barriers to achieving durable solutions, including return to their areas of origin. This is especially true in Sinjar, a demographically-mixed district in western Ninewa governorate that was one of the areas most devastated by the conflict with IS. Both the totality of the destruction in Sinjar—an estimated 80 percent of public infrastructure was destroyed—and the complexity of the ethnic and sectarian dynamics of IS occupation have prevented families from returning as two-thirds of the pre-conflict Sinjar population remain displaced.
Continued insecurity has inhibited sustainable returns as clashes in May 2022 erupted into violence, re-displacing more than ten thousand Yezidis. In addition to escalating tensions between armed groups, challenges in accessing housing, land, and property (HLP) rights pose barriers to return as IDPs and returnees report damaged property, competition over habitable housing, and inaccessible or delayed property dispute mechanisms in Sinjar.
NRC surveyed 1,500 Yezidi and Sunni Arab IDPs and Yezidi returnees in late 2021 and held key informant interviews (KIIs) in April and May 2022 to assess how HLP rights have influenced returns. Findings from the survey and interviews highlight that access to habitable property is central to the decision to return for IDPs from Sinjar. However, access to HLP cannot be disentangled from concerns around security, authority, and social cohesion in return decisions.
Ongoing barriers to HLP access, ranging from damaged infrastructure, insecurity, property disputes, or social tensions, will continue to inhibit the achievement of durable solutions in Sinjar. The Government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government, donor governments, and humanitarian and development actors should take concrete steps to invest in HLP programming, including integrating HLP issues into security, governance, and social cohesion dialogue and capacity building both formal and informal dispute forums.