Dis­placed Iraqis long for home, but re­turn risky

Bombs left by ji­hadists to blame

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

HAS­SAN SHAM CAMP, Iraq: Iraqi civil­ians dis­placed by the bat­tle to re­cap­ture Mo­sul long to re­turn home but bombs left by ji­hadists and on­go­ing fight­ing makes go­ing back now a dan­ger­ous propo­si­tion.

More than 100,000 Iraqis have fled their homes since the mas­sive op­er­a­tion to re­cap­ture Mo­sul from the Is­lamic State (IS) group was launched on Oc­to­ber 17, and the bat­tle is far from over.

Hisham, in his 20s, can­not stand life in the Has­san Sham camp any­more. “I am not ask­ing any­thing from any­one, just let me leave this camp and go home,” Hisham says.

He waves his arms, bran­dish­ing his iden­tity card prov­ing he is from a vil­lage that was re­cently re­taken from IS. “I was searched, my iden­tity was checked and then I was recorded. Now my name is on the list of dis­placed and I can­not move,” he says, adding that he had tried to leave the camp sev­eral times but was pre­vented from do­ing so.

Nearby, a teenager shiv­er­ing in the cold is an­gered that he can­not re­turn to his nearby house, rather than have to live squeezed into a tent in the camp along­side his fa­ther, mother and four sib­lings. “Our house is in the vil­lage of Has­san Sham and we are in the camp of Has­san Sham,” says the teenager, who de­clined to give his name.

Risk­ing lives to re­turn

“At least we would have a real roof. Here, there is hardly any­thing to eat,” while out­side, his fa­ther could have found work to sup­port the fam­ily.

From inside the fences sur­round­ing camps for dis­placed peo­ple in north­ern Iraq, life out­side may seem much bet­ter. But wait­ing to make sure of sta­bil­ity and that bombs have been re­moved is the safer course. “Of­ten we see places be­ing an­nounced re­taken and safe for re­turn very quickly,” said Becky Bakr Ab­dulla of the Nor­we­gian Refuge Coun­cil aid group.

But in re­al­ity, peo­ple may be “risk­ing their lives to re­turn home, be­cause it’s not safe or se­cure,” Ab­dulla said. “Be­fore peo­ple re­turn, they need to have all the in­for­ma­tion nec­es­sary to make an in­formed de­ci­sion,” she said, not­ing that there may not be “enough aid, not enough ser­vice in­fra­struc­ture (and) they feel forced to leave.”

In and around the city of Mo­sul, things are far from safe or se­cure. Iraqi sol­diers and po­lice say IS ji­hadists rigged many ev­ery­day house­hold items with ex­plo­sives be­fore they left, such as a phone, a copy of the Qu­ran, the Mus­lim holy book, and even a teddy bear.

Pos­si­ble tar­get for ji­hadists

And while fight­ing is still on­go­ing, civil­ians are not al­ways wel­come be­cause the se­cu­rity forces fear that ji­hadists may seek to use them or in­fil­trate them. Even af­ter an area is re­taken and se­cured, it may not be fit for habi­ta­tion: in­fra­struc­ture may be dam­aged, busi­nesses shut­tered, and peo­ple left re­liant on hu­man­i­tar­ian aid.

Aid or­ga­ni­za­tions say they are hes­i­tant to dis­trib­ute re­lief sup­plies in some ar­eas lest a crowd of civil­ians be­come a tar­get for IS. “The ma­jor­ity of in­ter­nally dis­placed per­sons seem keen to re­turn home, mo­ti­vated by a de­sire to re­turn to nor­mal­ity and the need to con­trol and safe­guard their prop­erty,” said Jenny sparks of the In­ter­na­tional Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Mi­gra­tion.

But “the scale and speed of re­turns can pose a par­tic­u­lar chal­lenge, es­pe­cially to com­mu­ni­ties al­ready made po­lit­i­cally and eco­nom­i­cally frag­ile as a re­sult of the re­cent oc­cu­pa­tion by IS and mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions,” Sparks said.

Ab­dulla noted that in Fal­lu­jah, a city west of Bagh­dad that was re­cap­tured from IS nearly six months ago, only around 10 per­cent of homes are fit for habi­ta­tion. “For a sus­tain­able so­lu­tion and sta­bi­liza­tion ef­fort, we’re look­ing at years, and a lot more fund­ing,” she said.


HASAN SHAM, Iraq: This file photo taken on De­cem­ber 16, 2016 shows dis­placed Iraqi women and chil­dren from the em­bat­tled city of Mo­sul ar­riv­ing at the Sew­d­i­nan camp for in­ter­nally dis­placed per­sons.

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