Iraqi authorities' decision to punish the families of those people who had allegedly joined ISIS is preventing internally displaced persons (IDPs) from returning to their homes, forcing them to accept “dire conditions” of camps, a human rights monitor said in a report, released on Friday.
“Iraqi authorities have put in place a system that has allowed communities, security forces, and government agencies to collectively punish families whose relatives were allegedly linked to ISIS,” said Belkis Wille, senior researcher for Iraq at Human Rights Watch (HRW).
“This system has put these families in a purgatory that prevents them from returning home, imprisons them in camps, and forces them to endure dire conditions that portend bleak futures for their children,” she added.
HRW said that “an estimated 1.8 million people still remain displaced” as a result of the five-year conflict between Iraqi forces and ISIS. According KRG figures, last updated in April, the Kurdistan Region hosts 1.12 million IDPs.
This is not the first time HRW has accused Iraqi authorities of blocking the IDPs from returning home.
In June 2018, the organization published a report documenting alleged cases where Iraqi forces prevented IDPs from Anbar province from returning to their homes.
“It is unacceptable for soldiers to arbitrarily block residents from going home, in direct contradiction to the central government’s orders to facilitate safe and voluntary returns," said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at HRW in the 2018 report.
According to a report from the International Organization for Migration (IOM), last updated on April 30, over four million IDPs have returned to their place of origin. The IOM estimates that around 1.7 million remain displaced.
Rudaw English contacted relevant Iraqi authorities for comment on HRW's report, but they were unavailable.
ISIS took control of large swathes of Iraqi territory in 2014, forcing millions of people to flee to other areas in Iraq, with many displaced to the Kurdistan Region.
The Iraqi government announced the territorial defeat of ISIS in December 2017. The liberation of the areas also led to more displacements, as civilians fled in an attempt to avoid being trapped in the battle between security forces and ISIS.
The European Union (EU) announced on Friday that it was committing an additional 2 million euros to the IOM in Iraq “to make critical infrastructure improvements in camps for internally displaced persons”, bringing their total contribution to IOM Iraq to 5 million euros for 2019.
In mid-May, Kurdistan Regional Government’s Joint Crisis Coordination Centre (JCC) and the IOM held a conference in Erbil, discussing “the obstacles before the return of IDPs and finding a mechanism to establish durable solutions for those who are not able to return.”
Hoshang Mohamed, director of the JCC, said in the event that all relevant partners had to work on “removing security, financial, and services-related obstacles for the return of the IDPs.”
Iraqi Parliament Speaker Mohamed al-Halbousi and then KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, met in April to discuss improving coordination between Erbil and Baghdad for responding to the needs of IDPs.
The KRG has shouldered the lion’s share of the financial burden – paying 75 percent of the $162 million monthly costs. International organizations cover the remaining 25 percent.