Iraq criticised for inadequate displaced families camp plan
Recent camp closures in Iraq have stripped thousands of families displaced by the campaign against the Islamic State group of essential services - including healthcare - during the pandemic, and the government has inadequate plans to return them home, Human Rights Watch (HRW) revealed.
The families were uprooted by fighting between the IS and government forces.
The Iraqi government has closed 16 camps in the last seven months, leaving at least 34,801 displaced people without assurances they could return home safely, or even find another camp.
Only two camps remain open in Baghdad-controlled territory, one in Nineveh and another in Anbar, and they are also set to close.
"After these families' years in limbo, it is positive that the government is trying to find durable solutions for families displaced by fighting," said Belkis Wille, senior crisis and conflict researcher at Human Rights Watch.
"But this strategy will only succeed if it builds on lessons learned from previous camp closures and forced returns in which aid was cut off and people were left completely on their own."
The Migration and Displacement Ministry announced the closures in mid-October 2020 and closed 16 camps by January 2021.
Many residents were female-headed households displaced by fighting between IS and the Iraqi military from 2014 to 2017, with some being labelled as IS-affiliated. The Kurdistan Regional Government has not shut down camps in areas under its control.
Despite the government's stated aim to have displaced people return home, administrative hurdles prevent families with perceived IS-links from obtaining documents, including identity cards, birth certificates, and ration cards.
A report published in December 2020, based on interviews with 2,764 families by a range of international humanitarian organizations, revealed almost a third of the families said they didn't want to leave the camp, and just over a third said they had not returned to their areas of origin. Most said this was because their properties were destroyed.
Of those who returned, only a third were living in their own homes, with the rest renting, hosted by others, or squatting in unfinished or abandoned buildings.
"If the government really wants to close the displacement file then it should start working on making sure that displaced families actually have the ability to resettle safely, whether back to their homes or elsewhere," Wille said. "This means ensuring that they have the basics – food, water, a roof over their head."