Over 5,000 Iraqis displaced by ISIS who returned home are back at camps in Kurdistan

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Hiwa Shilani |
The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has provided shelter to over 1.4 million refugees and internally displaced persons since the 2014 rise of the Islamic State. (Photo: Archive)
Kurdistan KRG JCC IDPs 

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – In the past five months, more than 5,000 Iraqis who fled the Islamic State since 2014 to live for years in displacement camps in the Kurdistan Region have gone home to find conditions unsafe or unlivable to the extent that they have again returned to the camps.

According to a report by the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) Joint Crisis Coordination Centre’s (JCC) published on Dec. 15, between the months of July and November, 5,197 Iraqi internally displaced persons (IDPs) returned to the camps in Kurdistan Region after returning to their homes for various periods of time. 

“Lack of security, absence of essential services such as electricity, water, and health services, plus no available livelihoods or other sources of income are among the main reasons they choose to leave their homes again and return to the camps in Kurdistan Region,” Mariwan Hassan, Director of Crisis Response Directorate of the JCC, told Kurdistan 24 

He added, “Security risks are one of the major concerns, such as tribal feuds and insurgent attacks from terrorist groups, either ISIS or other unknown armed groups. All these factors are forcing them to return to the safety of Kurdistan Region camps.”  

According to the JCC’s data, the number of IDPs now in the Kurdistan Region is 878,869 individuals, while the number of refugees from Syria, Turkey, Iran, and Palestine is 268,022.

The report also indicated that. out of the total number of IDPs, only 208,875 individuals are living in over 28 camps in the provinces of Duhok, Erbil, and Sulaimani, while the rest are living in the host communities or informal settlements across all four provinces in the Kurdistan Region. The average daily cost of IDPs and refugees hosted by the Kurdistan Region is $2,700,000, adding up to more than $81,000,000 per month and $982,000,000 every year, just under 1 billion dollars.

The data from JCC also indicates that 40 percent of the IDPs are Sunni Arabs, 30 percent are members of the Yezidi (Ezidi) religious minority, 13 percent are Kurds displaced from Iraq’s disputed territories, seven percent are Christians, and 10 percent are various other ethnic and religious minorities including of Turkmen, Shias, Kakayis, Shabaks, and Armenians.

Following the emergence of the jihadist group and its expansion in 2014, six million Iraqis were internally displaced, with thousands fleeing to neighboring and western countries. Although over two years have passed since Iraq declared a “final victory” against the so-called Islamic State, people continue to leave their homes and return to camps inside the autonomous Kurdistan Region. 

Since the beginning of 2019, the federal government in Baghdad has facilitated the resettlement of large numbers of refugees and IDPs to their areas of origin.

Iraqi officials have repeatedly been accused of blocking some populations from their homes while forcing others into areas to which they were afraid, or otherwise unwilling, to return, as documented by Human Rights Watch.

Read More: Iraq blocks displaced families from returning home, forces others to return: HRW

Amnesty International, too, alleged that Baghdad was forcefully returning IDPs and sternly called on authorities to end the practice.

Read More: Amnesty ‘extremely disturbed’ with reports of forced return of IDPs in Iraq

Thousands of refugees and IDPs continue to resist returning to their towns due to serious security concerns and a lack of infrastructure and basic government services.

Iraq’s Ministry of Migration and Displacement, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and multiple other Iraqi governmental bodies have a longstanding policy to refuse the non-voluntary return of Iraqi nationals from abroad. This includes those in European nations and the United States, both of which have often exerted considerable diplomatic pressure in recent years for Iraq to accept them. 

Editing by John J. Catherine