The end of 2016 and the first half of 2017 saw a notable trend of spontaneous returns within Iraq. IOM estimates that more than 700,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) have returned to their homes during the first six months of the year. Considering that nearly 90% of families who are still displaced are reported to be determined to return home and that the most cited obstacle is lack of security in their location of origin, in the context of recent and forthcoming security improvements, an increasing number of returns is expected in the near future.
Returning home, however, may just be the beginning of a new journey, as returnees often face new challenges. In nearly half of the surveyed locations – with peaks of 96% and 84% in Baghdad and Kirkuk respectively – most returnees are reported as unemployed; 32% returned to properties that have suffered significant to complete damage (with peaks of 57% and 53% in Diyala and Kirkuk respectively); and 60% and 43% are concerned about the poor quality of health services and of water. In addition, most of these returnees were displaced for more than three years, meaning that they return carrying the stress and financial weakening that result from long-term displacement. Although to a certain extent, the general security situation has stabilized since mid-2014, personal security continues to be a concern in daily life and episodes of domestic violence and petty crimes – and to a lesser extent sexual assaults and kidnapping – are still reported.
Whether they need to rebuild property and livelihood, regain their occupied homes or access essential services, returnee families remain a vulnerable population in Iraq and are in urgent need of assistance to ensure their choices are sustainable. The analysis conducted at location level shows how – notwithstanding the level of available resources or wealth – the fair and just governance of these resources and the righteous enforcement of law and order appear to favour social cohesion and foster re-integration, regardless of ethno-religious differences. This is undoubtedly the most important finding of the assessment, as community cohesion and the prevention of conflict are essential to rebuild a peaceful and united society
Other key findings of the assessment are summarized below:
After July 2016, total number of IDPs has been in constant decline – excluding major occupied areas where military operations took place. Three areas shaped the recent trend of displacement: Al-Shirqat and Baji (Salah al-Din) and Qayara (Ninewa) as of mid-June 2016; Hawija (Kirkuk) as of August 2016; and most dramatically Mosul (Ninewa) as of October 2016.
The central and northern governorates concentrate most of those who remain displaced, with a total 62%. Nearly one out of three families (32%) is in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI), while southern governorates cumulatively host 6% of the IDP population.
Return movements, which concern seven of the eight governorates – but Babylon – from where IDPs originally fled, are consistent with the evolving conflict dynamics. Occupied locations in Salah al-Din and Diyala were the first to be retaken, and return movements started there as early as 2015. Anbar was the governorate where most returns took place in both 2016 and 2017, followed by Ninewa in 2017.
The analysis per ethno-religious affiliation shows that Arab and Kurdish Sunni Muslims have mostly returned home, while Turkmen Shias as well as Sunni Muslims, Yazidis,
Christians and Shabak Shias remain displaced across Iraq. For over 20,000 IDP families belonging to these ethnoreligious groups “fear due to a change in ethno-religious composition of the place of origin” was cited among the top three obstacles to return.
Residential and infrastructure damage is widespread.
Nearly one third of returnees are reported to have returned to houses that have suffered significant to complete damage, and 60% to moderately damaged residences.
Regarding infrastructure, most damage appears to affect roads, followed by the public power grid and tap water networks.
Central and northern governorates were the hardest hit by armed conflict, although damage was also reported in Basrah, Wassit, Kerbala, Thi-Qar and Najaf – thus indicating that limited reconstruction has taken place. In addition, for half or more of the surveyed locations in some districts of Diyala and Salah al-Din, and for one third of those in Makhmur district in Erbil, reportedly arable and grazing land was not accessible due to landmines or flooding.
Generalized violence has overall decreased, and terrorist attacks and kidnapping were reported in Kirkuk, Salah alDin, Diyala and Baghdad governorates alone. The level of conflict appears to be rather low overall, and main returnee hotspots were identified only in the four districts of Kadhimia and Mahmoudiyah (Baghdad), and Al-Daur and Samarra (Salah al-Din).
Decreasing violence has led to more long-term concerns over economic security: 80% of IDPs and 63% of returnees cited access to employment as one of their top three needs.
Therefore, the first child protection concern mentioned is child labour – which is directly linked to economic hardship and the high share of families who rely on informal labour to earn a living.
IDPs are on average more concerned about accessing means of living than returnees; the latter rated water and health, respectively, as second and third top needs.
The poor quality of both services is a cause of concern particularly in Baghdad (for 70% of families), and should be highlighted because of the wider implications for health and disease prevention.
The share of IDPs settled in critical shelters and returnees unable to return to their habitual residence seems to have slightly increased compared to 2016. Concerning IDPs, it might be that less affluent IDPs are unable to return to their habitual shelter. Concerning returnees, the issue might be lack of legal documentation, as it was rated among the top three house, land and property (HLP) challenges in nearly one out of four locations – i.e. for 20% of returnee families.
Long-term intentions of IDPs are in line with last year’s findings: 90% are determined to return home. Only in Basrah and Najaf are families reported as considering to locally integrate in their location of displacement. Wishing to remain in a location that is homogeneous in ethnoreligious composition is possibly the major pull factor, as those who express this intention are mostly Shias. Probably for similar reasons, Yazidi and Chaldean Christian IDPs in KRI wish to move abroad – push factor.
Short-term intentions show a significant shift towards local integration as many of those who intended to return have already done so: the share of families willing to stay has increased from 32% in 2015 to 75% in 2017. In fact, obstacles such as the lack of a shelter to return to, of services back home, and of funds to afford the trip appear to be more important than security issues in the location of origin.
Difficulties in returning to the habitual residence may also be related to the fact that in some cases, those who remain in displacement are the poorest and most vulnerable families, strained by long years on the move. In locations where there are female-headed households, and particularly households headed by minor females, “lack of money” is consistently among the top three obstacles to return.
Lack of funds, though, can act both as a pull factor to stay in displacement and as a push factor fostering returns.
Comparing the governorates of Anbar and Salah al-Din shows that while in Anbar lack of money was rated as a top obstacle to return by intra-governorate IDPs, in Salah alDin 40% of returns were triggered by lack of funds to stay in displacement.
The same trend is observed regarding the choice of the displacement destination. The main motivation for nearly 30% of families is the presence of extended family/ relatives/friends and as a community of similar ethnicreligious-linguistic background. For 25% of families, it was reportedly their only choice as they could not afford any other place (compared to 8% in 2016). When the drive for security and peace becomes less important, factors behind the choice of the displacement destination are most likely the same that keep families in displacement and inhibit or delay the return to the location of origin.
- International Organization for Migration
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