International aid agencies have criticised Iraq’s decision to close several camps for internally displaced people (IDPs), saying the order is “too rushed” and did not ensure proper coordination between local and national authorities.
According to the Norwegian Refugee Council, there are at least 240,000 IDPs – forced out of their homes during the battle with the ISIL (ISIS) armed group – across various Iraqi governorates.
Last month, the Iraqi government ordered the closure of the camps by the end of November.
“These closures have been characterised by the extremely short notice given both to camp residents and the humanitarian community, and the lack of coordination between national and local authorities and humanitarian actors – resulting in forced, coerced and blocked returns,” said Cherry Franklin, advocacy officer for the Norwegian Refugee Council.
The IDPs unable to access shelter will be forced to live in informal settlements, tents or abandoned buildings in winter, she added.
Aid workers say the homes of most Iraqis who fled the war against the ISIL are badly damaged or were demolished, and still lie in areas with little security and basic services.
“Without a clear plan in place, either for the camp closures or for the future of the camp residents, the lives of around 240,000 IDPs are now at immediate risk, with the increased likelihood of exacerbating existing inter-communal tensions and further undermining stability in Iraq,” Franklin said.
Displaced Iraqis being evacuated from Hammam al-Alil camp south of Mosul, Iraq [Abdullah Rashid/Reuters]Jan Egeland of the Norwegian Refugee Council said the Iraqi government is keen to shut down the camps as “they don’t want institutionalised camps”, adding that the most vulnerable IDPs are women and children.
“No one likes refugee or displacement camps. We also want these people to return and find a safe haven,” he told Al Jazeera, speaking from Oslo. “[These] are women and children – the most vulnerable – and they have no place to go.”
Egeland said there is “no home waiting for them, no building, no water, no sanitation, [and] no school for the children”.
“So this has to be better planned, and it has to be voluntary and safe return or relocation elsewhere.”
According to Khalid Abdulamir Ismail, an official with the Iraqi ministry of migration and displacement in the northern Nineveh province, the government issued the order to shut down “the issue of displacement”.
“Out of the 1,830 families in Hamam al-Alil camp, 1,565 have returned back to their homes, and the others have been transferred to Jeddah camp,” he told Al Jazeera.
“The ministry of migration, in cooperation with international organisations, will work on the provision of infrastructure in their areas of return,” he said.
Najm Al Jabouri, the governor of Nineveh province said it will be “very difficult for some of the families to return home”, adding that some of them “can be absorbed in the large cities, and some cities may accept them”.
Meanwhile, Iraqi families who had its members involved with the ISIL are facing obstacles from the tribes in their bid to return home.
“ISIL families cannot return to their area, to their homes,” said Zaal Latif al-Jabouri, a tribal leader in Qayyarah. “The reason is that ISIL was involved in bloodshed and [its members] wanted by every single house.”
“Until now, we have not agreed for them to return because that will cause problems. It’s a matter of blood [retribution]. Nobody can guarantee their safety,” he said.
Saada Mohammed Obaid, an IDP from Qahira village in Sinjar whose husband joined ISIL and is presumed dead, called on the tribal authorities to “have mercy in their hearts”.
“The tribes have to put themselves in our shoes. Yes, some people made mistakes, but don’t kill the child due to the crime of his parents,” she said.
“I ask all the tribes in the name of all families to consider our situation and that of our children.”
Al Jazeera’s Simona Foltyn reported from Iraq’s northern Nineveh province
A girl plays on a makeshift swing at Hammam Al-Alil camp where displaced Iraqis prepare to be evacuated [Abdullah Rashid/Reuters]