Those who were living in IDP camps in Anbar province are returning to their homes following an end to major security operations against ISIS. However, there are concerns over the safety of many displaced people returning home, as well as the pace of resettlement.
The return of internally displaced people (IDPs) in Iraq has become one of the main priorities of the country’s central and local governments following the formal defeat of ISIS militants in December 2017. An estimated half of Iraq’s IDPs have already returned to their homes from as a result of government initiatives with the assistance of aid organisations and NGOs.
Mohammed al-Halbusi, leader of the Anbar provincial government since August 2017, has initiated a plan to return all IDPs to their homes from camps across the province.
One such IDP camp in Khalidiya, which housed thousands of families who fled their homes in Ramadi and Fullujah between 2014 and 2017, has been cleared of all its residents as a result of the local government’s plan of return.
“We have acted according to the instructions of the governor [al-Halbusi], who helped bring the families to their homes safely,” said one of the camp officials.
Life has often been difficult for displaced people living in camps. As a result of overcrowding, the camps lacked sufficient basic supplies, including medicine and water, to sustain the camp’s entire population for the duration of the military operations that were ongoing across the country.
But despite the suffering that many of the camp’s residents endured, most feel it is not yet safe to return to their homes. Although security has improved since ISIS’ defeat, their concerns are not completely unfounded; security operations against ISIS sleeper cells are continuing across parts of the country, including within Anbar Province. In April, the Iraqi Security Forces began an operation in Ramadi to eliminate remaining ISIS militants who have carried out numerous attacks. Furthermore, retreating militants mined buildings and streets in all areas that were once under the militant group’s control, presenting those returning to their homes in secured areas with a threat of death or serious injury.
Aid organisations have expressed concern over the pace of the clearance of IDP camps. At the end of 2017, just weeks after the defeat of ISIS militants, 5,000 people were evacuated from their camps and returned to their hometowns. In addition, local officials in Nineveh province recently issued a warning to 13,000 displaced families that they will be forcibly returned to their homes if they did not return voluntarily.
Some NGOs operating in the country have accused the Iraqi Government of pushing for the return of displaced people to ensure they vote in their respective constituencies in the upcoming May elections. However, provincial governments have opened numerous polling stations in IDP camps in most of Iraq’s provinces to ensure that the country’s displaced population are able to participate in voting.
Furthermore, Iraq’s central government has defended its evacuation of IDP camps and claimed that the swift resettlement of displaced people is essential to prevent significant demographic change across the country, which could trigger previously non-existent inter-group and sectarian tensions.