Ahmad Falah - IOHR
The Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights has documented hundreds of cases of families from Salah Al-Din province who are not allowed to return to their home cities, despite the fact that Iraqi Forces announced the liberation of their cities since 2015.
The monitoring network at the Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights (IOHR) documented that hundreds of families from Tel Dhahab, Aziz Balad, and other villages in the south of Salah Al-Din province and Salman Beik, have been denied from returning to their homes under the pretext that they have helped terrorists, or that they are suspected of being extremists. Some of the displaced families have fled from their homes in 2014 when ‘Islamic State’ (ISIS) fighters took over their cities.
Some of the displaced families live in internally displaced persons (IDP) camps; spread across the Kurdistan Region of Iraq and the provinces of Baghdad and Salah Al-Din, where some families live under harsh humane conditions; some residing in unfinished and uninhabited buildings, or inside schools with no proper health facilities and insufficient access to water, the spread of diseases as well as the lack of medicine.
A local source has confirmed to the IOHR that these families’ homes and properties have been looted, burned, bulldozed or blown up using explosives, after the fighting had ceased and the Iraqi Forces took control of these areas, to ensure that the families would not be able to return to their cities in the future.
The Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights (IOHR) spoke with several displaced persons from those areas who talked about their hardships.
Describing his ordeal, Omar said, “I fled with my family when ISIS took hold of Aziz Balad, we took nothing with us except one suitcase filled with clothes and our legal documents. I left my home, my shop and everything I owned. Right now we live in difficult circumstances. My sister is ill and I don’t have enough money to buy her the medicine she needs. Nobody has offered us any help; even the Ministry of Migration and Displaced has only given us cash assistance once since our displacement. Even local and international organisations haven’t given us much. Two months ago I learned that my home and shop were looted and bombed by unknown parties. There is no hope for return; the local authorities will not allow it. I have nothing. How will I support my family?”
As for Ahmed, who was sentenced to death by ISIS, told the IOHR : “I didn’t escape when ISIS took hold of our village, not until a month later, because I did not have enough money [to do so at that moment]. I was sentenced to death by members of ISIS because I refused to pledge my loyalty to the Caliph and to join them in their fighting. I escaped miraculously and headed towards Samarra. Currently I live with my relatives. After our village was liberated [from ISIS], unknown parties looted and blew up our homes and burned the agricultural lands to ensure that we would never return. The local authorities did not stop these actions from taking place, nor did they offer to help us. We called upon the security forces to prevent these actions several times, but to no avail. We appealed to the governor and provincial council to help us return to our areas, even if our homes had been completely blown up. We told them that we want to return, even if it means we had to live in tents if need be.”
On 31 August, 2016, the Salah Al-Din Provincial Council issued an order requiring the deportation, or forcible transfer, of the families of all ISIS members for a period no less than 10 years, and confiscation of their property. The decision included fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters, and everyone who was deemed to have collaborated with ISIS. The decision would be reviewed every six months.
The Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights (IOHR) believes that delaying or hindering the return of internally displaced persons is a clear breach of human rights and international conventions and humanitarian law, as is the decision to forcibly transfer the families of alleged-ISIS members.
The Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights calls upon the Iraqi Government and local authorities to intervene to end these violations and the suffering of the residents of these cities and to annul the decision to deport the families of ISIS members.
The IOHR calls on all parties to adhere to International Principles of Human Rights, particularly the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, in addition to International Humanitarian Law.