After Mosul, UNHCR steps up humanitarian support for returns
This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at today's press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.
UNHCR, the United Nations’ Refugee Agency, has been stepping up its aid effort for Iraqi families in Mosul, including for thousands who have recently returned to the city after fleeing the fighting.
Our field assessments show that the returning population of Mosul needs assistance of every kind, but the shelter needs are the most pressing, particularly in the western part of the city. Many neighbourhoods in the west have been extensively damaged or totally destroyed during months of fighting.
Our UN partners say that of the 54 residential districts in West Mosul, 15 suffered destruction or heavy damage, another 23 areas are moderately damaged, while further 16 neighbourhoods sustained light damage.
Mines, unexploded ordnance and related devices pose massive risks for the city’s residents, especially children. UNHCR welcomes the ongoing mine clearing efforts by the authorities and the UN Mine Action Service to ensure safe return of the city’s displaced population. But given the magnitude of the problem, clearance work to remove all explosive hazards could take a very long time.
Returning families also face challenges in accessing basic services and utilities – accessing water, electricity or fuel in parts of Mosul can be difficult and very expensive.
So far, according to government figures, some 79,000 people returned to battered West Mosul – that is one out of every ten people who were forced to flee from this part of the city. Also, the government says, more than 90% of families (more than 165,000 people) who had fled East Mosul during the conflict have now returned. There has been considerably less destruction in East Mosul and we witness progress in gradual resumption of day-to-day life there.
However, there are also families who have returned to camps. Managers in the IDP camps east of Mosul estimate that at least 200 families have moved back to the camps after finding living conditions difficult in Mosul. Reasons cited for their return a include lack of shelter; high rental prices; a lack of livelihood opportunities and limited basic services such as electricity and water.
For returns to the city to be safe and sustainable, there must be conducive conditions on the ground. We stress that the return of any displaced population needs to be voluntary, it has to be carefully planned and carried out on the basis of the international humanitarian principles.
Since the end of military operations in west Mosul in July, together with our partner Human Appeal, we have already distributed shelter kits to more than 3,200 families in east and west Mosul, both to returnees and to families who had been unable to move. The aid package includes emergency shelter kits and sealing-off kits which allow families to carry out basic repairs so they are able to live in partially damaged or unfinished buildings. The plan is to distribute kits to up to 36,000 families by the end of this year.
UNHCR has also been providing cash assistance to some of the most vulnerable displaced Iraqi families. So far we have been able to reach a quarter of some 3,000 vulnerable families initially assessed to be in need of cash assistance. Families receive one-off cash assistance of $400 (486,000 IQD), using a system of mobile money transfers. Some of the most vulnerable families will receive the same amount for up to three months, helping them to pay rent and manage basic necessities such as food and utilities.
Large numbers of IDPs and returnees are also missing key civil documents – some 28% of displaced families in camps have reported missing, damaged, invalid or expired paperwork hindering their movements and access to services. UNHCR and partners are providing legal assistance and supporting local authorities as they struggle with capacity and lack of resources, to reissue civil and identity documents to displaced families in the camps, including birth and marriage certificates. We also support the work of mobile courts, residency directorates and notaries to issue civil documents through outreach protection teams in displacement camps.
Given the scale of the destruction in Mosul, particularly in the western sector, humanitarian needs will remain high. UNHCR will continue to support vulnerable families returning to Mosul, while at the same time we also need to maintain shelter and assistance for thousands of families in camps for many months to come.