Obstacles to return in retaken areas of Iraq - Final Report, March 2017
More than three years after the occupation of large parts of the Iraqi territory by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the almost immediate battles that ensued to reclaim those areas, more than 3 million Iraqis remain displaced and over 1.7 million have returned to their place of origin, as the Iraqi Security Forces, the Kurdish Peshmerga and other coalition groups are retaking occupied areas at a steady pace. In the context of this fluid and complex situation, this research aims to investigate and analyze the immediate factors that limit the willingness or ability of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) to return to their place of origin. The decision to return is influenced by several factors and actors, the most relevant of which are presented and analyzed in this study.
The project has two components, a qualitative one of in-depth interviews with key informants, and a quantitative one, with household surveys administered to returnees and IDPs; it was implemented in eight sub-districts distributed across five governorates that were chosen based on criteria that would allow comparison and analysis, and would be representative of the Iraqi context. Special attention was paid to the locations’ ethno-religious, tribal and socioeconomic diversity and to gender balance; socially diverse key informants, representing returnees and displaced persons, were chosen for each location.
THE STUDY HIGHLIGHTS THE FOLLOWING GENERAL TRENDS:
The decision to return or stay in displacement is taken individually or by the family rather than by the tribe or community, and in most cases, returns involve all members of the family. Family, relatives and friends, followed by the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), are those who mainly support these returns, while formal actors seem to play a secondary role.
Security in the area of origin clearly appeared as the main factor influencing the decision to return or remain in displacement: 52% of returnees went back because security was considered good in their location of origin, while 28% of IDPs chose to remain in displacement because of the lack of security back home. Other security-related factors influencing the decision to remain in displacement were fear from security actors, of reprisal acts, violence, and harassment or discrimination (10% of IDPs). A high level of trust towards the security actors in the area of origin, in particular, seems to encourage more returns, while the opposite holds true. Secondary factors preventing return were lack of service provision and damage or destruction of property back home.
As to property damage, both groups (IDPs and returnees) reported a similar extent of damage; the difference lay in the actor who inflicted this damage, which was different for IDPs and returnees from the same location. Where the actor having inflicted the damage is still in power, returns were expectably lower, while house damage by itself was not found to be a significant obstacle to return.
Most IDPs said they were satisfied with their decision to stay in displacement; however, this does not mean that they do not plan to return at some point: 76% of interviewed IDPs said they intend to return, half of whom within a year. Returnees, on the other hand, reported higher levels of discomfort, harassment and discrimination in their area of displacement, which could have promoted a faster return.
Of those IDPs who tried to return, 23% were not allowed to do so whether through intentional delays by local authorities in processing the documentation required to organize the return, or blockages at checkpoints.
As to fear of reprisal back home, over 31% of interviewed IDPs believe they could be victims of reprisal or violent acts if they went back to their location of origin. However, this perception is much lower among interviewed returnees (10%). Over 25% of interviewed IDPs and 20% of interviewed returnees said that they foresaw an increase of tension when returns to the areas of origin increase.
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