Iraq + 1 more

Iraq: Bi-weekly Protection Update (22 January - 4 February 2018)

Attachments

HIGHLIGHTS

  • IDPs continue to return to their areas of origin in high numbers but over 808 families were re-displaced to camps across Iraq during the last two weeks of January.

  • A recent protection assessment highlights concerns over disappearances, collective punishment, and a volatile security situation in Shirqat district, Salah al-Din Governorate.

  • IDPs in Al Shahama camp, near Tikrit, Salah al-Din continue to live in challenging conditions. The requests of 120 families to leave the camp based on sponsorship were denied by tribal Sheikhs.

  • On 31 January, authorities in Kirkuk evicted 25 Syrian refugee families from Barudkhana and new Azadi neighbourhoods in Kirkuk City to Sulaymaniyah Governorate.

Affected Population

3.2 million IDPs have returned to their places of origin while 2.6 million are still displaced in Center-South areas.

Displacement

IDPs continue to return to their areas of origin but between 22 January and 4 February, 808 families (3,850 individuals) were also displaced to camps across Iraq. New arrivals to camps continue to be predominantly families from recently retaken areas who have undergone displacement on several occasions due to lack of financial resources and conditions in areas of return. Among the new arrivals was a group of families from Telafar, Ninewa Governorate, who had been displaced to Al Hol Refugee camp in Syria, and recently returned to Iraq. The families were not able to return to their areas of origin, and are currently at the Hamam Al-Alil Transit Site (HAA TS).

Meanwhile, six extremely vulnerable female-headed households (FHH) reported they had been forced by government-affiliated armed groups to leave their areas of origin and three reported they had their houses destroyed as their husbands were suspected of having extremist affiliations.

Other re-displaced FHH reported feeling unsafe in areas that are controlled by government -affiliated armed groups as they were repeatedly questioned regarding the whereabouts of their husbands.
Some 34 IDP families (183 individuals), 30 originating from Shimalia village in Sinjar district,
Ninewa Governorate, were transferred from the informal Tal Jarabiya settlement, Telafar to HAA.
All males above 12 years of age had to undergo security screening by Iraqi intelligence forces prior to the move. The relocation had been requested by the IDPs because health services, food and WASH assistance in Tal Jarabiya are limited. 580 families choose to remain in the settlement due its proximity to their areas of origin or because they have livestock or agricultural machinery that they cannot bring to HAA. IDPs from Shimalia in Sinjar fled their villages to Ba’aj about one year ago.

UNHCR’s partner recently conducted a protection assessment in Tal Jarabiya. Most families originate from Sinjar, and Telafar, Ninewa Governorate, and are Arab or Turkmen. In addition to gaps in services, IDPs face restrictions to their freedom of movement and have had legal documents confiscated. 50 female headed houses are particularly vulnerable as they are alleged to have affiliations with extremist groups. Reportedly these IDPs from Sinjar are forbidden from returning due to ongoing community tension. Meanwhile, residents from parts of Telafar remain displaced in part due to contamination of explosive hazards in their areas of origin. The Ministry of Transport intended to transfer 500 families to HAA TS on 29 January, but did not implement the plans as community leaders expressed concern about moving them to other IDP camps because of clan dynamics.

On 28 January, the Camp Coordination Camp Management (CCCM) Cluster released the findings of a phone survey conducted among 392 IDP families who had departed camps since 20 November 2017 and had been identified during the camp exit survey conducted by the cluster. It found that 77 per cent of the families have remained in their area of return, while 23 percent have moved to secondary locations and 5 percent returned to camps. 18 per cent of the total sample reported that they were still missing one or more legal documents. The same percentage identified the need to clear explosive hazards in their areas of return as a primary need.

Returns to Recently Retaken Areas

Returns to Rawa, Anbar Governorate began with at least 52 IDPs returning to the district between 22 January and 4 February. Local authorities expect an increase in returns during the mid-year break of the school year in early February, although living conditions in Rawa continue to be challenging, including due to the contamination of explosive hazards. On 21 and 22 January, two returnees were killed and seven injured in two IED explosion in Rawa. The explosive had been hidden inside their houses. Estimates indicate that hundreds of houses have not been cleared yet.

Returns to Ba’aj, Ninewa are also gaining momentum after the district recently became accessible.
UNHCR spoke to IDPs from Ba’aj in the Salamiyah camps in Ninewa, which accommodate predominantly IDPs from that district. They expressed reluctance to return for the time being due to the presence of government-affiliated armed groups, limited information about the status of their property and the level of destruction in the area.

A large number of returns from camps have gone to Mosul, Baiji and parts of Shirqat in Salah al-Din, and Al Qa’im in Anbar Governorate (including the Al-Karabla and Al-Masharee areas, which only recently became accessible). The improved security, clearance activities, and in some cases fears of looting of houses were cited as pull factors behind returns while the poor living conditions in certain camps acted as push factors for families.

In Tuz Khurmatu, Salah al-Din, there have reportedly been substantial returns of displaced Kurdish and Sunni Arab families from surrounding governorates, including Kirkuk, Sulaymaniyah, and Diyala.
This is a continuation of a trend reported during the last update. The local authorities attribute this to the presence of the Federal Rapid Emergency Forces who replaced government-affiliated armed groups. Authorities have also suggested that the situation in the city has normalized.

More than 9,450 out of 42,000 families have returned to the centre of Telafar city mainly from outof-camp locations in southern governorates, with further returns ongoing. All those interviewed by UNHCR and partners reported that they had returned voluntarily to their houses after obtaining a security clearance letter from the local intelligence office and a return letter signed by various local authorities. Returnees from Nimrud camp to Telafar (Almuthana, Alslam and Alaskri neighborhoods) listed fear of looting of their property and the high living expenses in out-of-camp locations as major factors in their decision to return.

At the same time, families with alleged extremist affiliations are reportedly being denied permission to return and some IDPs suggested that receiving the necessary clearances is dependent on approval by the Federal Police which can be difficult. Many of the houses (reportedly more than 70 percent) and public buildings in the centre of Telafar have been severely damaged or destroyed, but the market shops are fully operating. Contamination of explosive hazards, including of private houses, remains a challenge. The court in Telafar has also re-opened and is currently replacing/ renewing civil and other legal documentation.

A lack of legal documentation still remains a key obstacle to returns as it means that IDPs are often not able to leave camps and proceed though checkpoints without risking arrest. An exception to this is movement during organized returns where sometimes IDPs without legal documents can proceed though checkpoints without further scrutiny, because they are escorted by security forces.

Protection

Concerns in East Shirqat, Salah al-Din Returns to Shirqat district, Salah al-Din are ongoing with more than 190 families returned from different parts of Salah al-Din to the district returning in late January. A protection assessment in Shirqat and highlighted a number of critical concerns including disappearances, different forms of collective punishment, and recruitment of children by government-affiliated armed groups.

The security situation in parts of the district also remains unpredictable. For example, on 26 January, a mortars and fire arms attack by extremists, against Iraqi Security Forces and governmentaffiliated armed groups, was reported in the Naml village in Makhool area.

Incidents where extremely vulnerable women suspected to have extremist links based on their husband’s absence had been forced to re-marry local men to gain acceptance by the community have also been reported. Others, such as three women from Sidera, Shirqat who reached Haj Ali camp in early February, have been forced to leave their area of origin. Services and livelihood opportunities in the area also remain limited and, together with multi-faceted protection concerns, have resulted in re-displacement of returnee families. Parts of Shirqat remain heavily contaminated with explosive hazards.
Two tribal meetings were conducted in January, the last one on 28 January, to make a decision regarding the possibility of returns for families accused of affiliations with extremist armed groups. Neither resulted in a clear decision. The outcome of these processes will decide the fate of 1,200 families across Shirqat, Salah al-Din, Immam Gaebi in Ninewa and in parts of Baghdad.

Continued Freedom of Movement Restrictions for IDPs in Al Shahama camp

IDPs in Al Shahama camp, in Tikrit district, Salah al-Din Governorate, live in challenging conditions due to severe restrictions on freedom of movement, significant presence of armed actors and limited access to services in the camp. The camp hosts 174 extremely vulnerable, predominantly female-headed, households (700 individuals who all have family members allegedly associated, or accused of association, with extremists). Most originate from east Shirqat district and were involuntarily brought from informal settlements in Tikrit, and Al Alam camps, to Al Shahama by armed actors because of their profile. The only way for IDPs to leave the camp is though sponsorship. UNHCR continues to highlight concerns over the living conditions, the closed nature of the camp and treatment of its inhabitants. Despite close monitoring and advocacy, there had has been little progress towards closing the camp or allowing residents to move to alternative locations should they so wish. On 28 January it was reported that seven families (26 individuals) had their sponsorship requests approved and were able to depart the camp, with other families exploring sponsorship options. 120 families in the camp had their request denied by tribal sheikhs, despite having found possible sponsors.

Eviction of Syrian refugees in Kirkuk

On 31 January, authorities in Kirkuk evicted 25 Syrian refugee families from Barudkhana and new Azadi neighbourhoods in Kirkuk to Sulaymaniyah. The families had been living in in Kirkuk for at least three years. In mid-January, authorities in Kirkuk conducted targeted searches of neighbourhoods that host significant refugee populations, mostly in the northeast of the city, requesting them to show documents proving their legal status issued by the Iraqi residency department. The families who were not able to do so, for example as their residency had been issued by authorities in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KR-I), were issued with eviction notifications by a joint body of Iraqi intelligence, local police, and the residency department. Some refugees also had documents confiscated.

UNHCR has since mid-January advocated with the relevant government stakeholders in Baghdad and was able to stall the eviction of a further 33 Syrian refugee families from Kirkuk. Syrian refugees who enter Iraq through the KR-I and receive residency documents there do not have the right to reside in the governorates of South/Central Iraq, according to the Federal Government’s policies. However many refugees do travel to Kirkuk and other governorates due to livelihood opportunities, thereby risking evictions, criminal charges and detention, and/or forced removal to the KR-I.

Forced returns of IDPs

Plans for the consolidation and closure of IDP camps continues to progress under the government’s leadership. On 31 January, the Ministry of Migration and Displacement closed Laylan 3 camp in Kirkuk.
IOM transported the remaining 123 IDP families to Nazrawa, Laylan 1, and Daquq camps, all in Kirkuk Governorate. The IDPs reported to UNHCR during an intention survey that the relocation was voluntary. In addition, on 30 January the Baghdad Provincial Council closed their Nabi Sheet camp and forced 31 IDP families to return to their areas of origin in Telafar. Overall, six IDP camps across Iraq have recently been closed (three in Baghdad Governorate and three in Ninewa Governorate). 1,628 families (9,000 persons) are currently sheltering in the 11 additional camps in Baghdad Governorate, most of which are targeted for closure in February 2018. On 3 January, the Baghdad Operation Commander (BOC) announced plans for the immediate closure of all IDP camps in Baghdad by 14 January, although three IDPs camps were expected to remain open. After advocacy efforts by UNHCR and other stakeholders, it was agreed that the closure/eviction process would be suspended until after the completion of school exams on 1 February. The BOC has indicated its aim is to press some 1,357 IDP families in camps and the host community in Baghdad to return to their areas of origin (primarily Al Qa’im, Falluja, and Ramadi in Anbar Governorate, as well as areas in Ninewa Governorate). BOC confirmed that they have given several notices to the IDPs and camp managers about the date of planned evictions. UNHCR has spoken to 114 IDP families in Baghdad camps who are not willing to return to their areas of origin due to concerns over UXO contamination and a lack of livelihood opportunities. UNHCR is advocating with all stakeholders that protection considerations are prioritized in the process of camp consolidation and closure, and advocate for voluntary, informed, dignified, safe and sustainable returns.