Although 18 months have passed since the Iraqi government officially declared victory over the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the city of Mosul – and particularly west Mosul, which was the group’s final stronghold in Iraq – is still facing significant challenges that hinder the return and reintegration of internally displaced persons (IDPs), many of whom are now living in or at-risk of protracted displacement.
Entire neighborhoods have not yet been rebuilt, basic services are insufficient in some areas, and poor sanitation is contributing to serious public health problems and the spread of diseases. Furthermore, reports of harassment and violence against civilians by state as well as non-state actors are undermining efforts to build trust in state institutions and authorities. Revenge killings and other acts of retaliation against residents of Mosul and IDPs who are suspected of joining or collaborating with IS have continued since the battle, threatening to trigger new cycles of inter-communal violence. This report, based on interviews and focus groups with a total of 110 Iraqi men and women in west Mosul and the IDP camps Hasan Sham, Haj Ali and Qayyara, provides a rapid assessment of current barriers to return and the challenges and risks that IDPs face if and when they decide to return to west Mosul. We focus in particular on social dynamics between three key populations: (1) “stayers”, west Moslawis who remained in Mosul for the duration of ISIL's three-year rule, (2) “IDPs,” west Moslawis who left the city at a relatively early stage in ISIL rule and are still displaced in IDP camps, and (3) “returnees”, those who were previously displaced from west Mosul and have since returned to the city. Although the voluntary return of IDPs has been identified as “a critical factor in sustaining a peace process and in revitalizing economic activity” as well as an indicator of successful post-conflict recovery and reintegration efforts, it is important to recognize and respond to the risk that premature or involuntary return to areas that are unsafe or inhospitable (whether as a result of hostile social dynamics, crime and violence, or inadequate infrastructure and services) may trigger new grievances and conflicts.
We identify several issues that need to be addressed to ensure that the return of those who remain displaced is safe, dignified and sustainable, and does not trigger new cycles of intercommunal conflict: (1) mutual distrust and resentment between different social groups (IDPs, stayers, and returnees) often stemming from suspicion of membership of or collaboration with ISIL and resulting fears of revenge and harassment by other civilians or security forces and (2) insufficient services, education, and job opportunities in west Mosul. These problems are being compounded by west Moslawis’ frustration with the reconstruction process, which is widely perceived as slow, corrupt and uneven. Many interviews and focus group members expressed concerns that aid is being intentionally withheld from west Mosul neighborhoods perceived as sympathetic to ISIL as “punishment” and that east Mosul is receiving more assistance. Although data indicates that the pace and visibility of reconstruction activities are indeed higher in east Mosul, the disparity is due to the fact that west Mosul was retaken several months later and sustained higher levels of damage. Nonetheless, the fact that many residents of west Mosul perceive this disparity as intentional discrimination is important and reveals a need for greater transparency and more effective communication by the Iraqi government, United Nations (UN) agencies, and Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) about the process of reconstruction, as well as humanitarian assistance, social cohesion and reintegration initiatives. We conclude with policy implications and recommendations for programming, both in IDP camps and in Mosul.