ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Human Rights Watch (HRW) highlighted the experiences of Iraqi families struggling to find a safe home in Iraq: Not a Homecoming, a new report released on Friday that describes a government system that often puts its vulnerable citizens in danger.
"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," said Belkis Wille, HRW's senior Iraq researcher.
Since early 2018, authorities have aggressively pushed for returns of most displaced people, often by closing camps whether or not residents' areas of origin are safe or even inhabitable.
Some who can’t return home are being moved to other camps that remain, while others about whom there is suspicion of familial connections to Islamic State supporters, most of them women and children, are being denied return or being held against their will.
"This massive social reengineering project to rebuild a shattered nation will come with costs."
The report also tells of a camp that is run not by government or humanitarian administrators, but by fighters of Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) militias who deny access to aid groups and who residents charge are responsible for the forced disappearance of dozens of civilians being held in the camp's prison-like conditions.
"The remaining displaced are uniquely vulnerable to abuse. Some are being forced to return home to unsafe conditions, where they risk landmines, revenge attacks from neighbors, or forced recruitment into local armed groups."
In several instances, displaced families returned to rubble because local leaders ordered authorities in the areas where they had been living to evict them to force them back. Humanitarian organizations suspect that "this was because a local leader wanted to attract aid to the area and can only do that if there is a population that has returned."
In other cases, local officials, tribal leaders, or security forces charge the families large amounts of money to return home.
The report describes one elderly woman who wanted to go home was from an area in Anbar Province where the majority tribe was claiming that members of her tribe had joined the Islamic State and demanded huge payments to allow families to return.
"I don’t have $40,000 to go home," she told HRW. According to the human rights watchdog, "Dozens of families in Anbar told similar stories: only if they were rich enough to pay the stronger tribe could they go home."
"Instead of developing a clear plan to reintegrate families into Iraqi society," concluded the report, "the authorities have done little, abdicating control to armed groups, community leaders, and mob mentality."