HIGHLIGHTS: To date 217,764 women, girls, boys and men have been displaced as a result of the military offensives to retake Mosul district. Of this total, 57,462 have since returned, reportedly to their areas of origin in liberated areas of east Mosul city and other liberated districts in Ninewa. This leaves around 160,300 persons currently displaced due to the fighting around Mosul since 17 October 2016. Protection concerns highlighted this week include detentions and disappearances, registration and identity documentation challenges, forced returns and restrictions on access to safety.
Arrest and detention
Families in Qaymawa and Hasansham camps reported to UNHCR protection partner teams that security authorities detained 59 male family members this week. Families have expressed concern over the whereabouts and well-being of their detained relatives. Masked informants are believed to be behind the rounding up and seizing of four IDPs from Qaymawa camp. The reliance placed by authorities on masked informants raises serious protection concerns with the potential of false accusations and the lack of due process.
Arbitrary arrests based on local informants are also of serious concern in return areas of eastern Mosul, with families stating that they have no information on the whereabouts of male relatives who security forces have taken in for questioning.
In Kirkuk, a joint national security force unit arrested 136 male IDPs from Daquq, Laylan and Nazrawa camps on 14 February. Seventy-seven of those arrested were released after a brief detention at Laylan police station while the remaining 59 were formally presented to court. UNHCR and other protection actors continue to refer enquiring families for family tracing and messaging assistance while also urging authorities to ensure that all arrests follow due process.
Concerns regarding non-registration and civil documentation support
IDPs departing Qaymawa and Nargizlia have questioned the withdrawal of their camp registration/ration cards which they believe would have attested to their status as IDPs for social entitlements. UNHCR has urged camp management and the Ministry of Migration and Displacement (MoMD) to allow families to retain these cards in the absence of formal registration. The officials stated that they will shortly be issuing special IDP cards to all departing IDPs, including those who have left already, through traditional community leaders. However, any delay in this process will continue to negatively impact returnee families.
While UNHCR recognizes that MoMD has been registering IDPs in Debaga and Daquq camps, the practice is not widespread or consistent across the country. For instance in Daquq camp, protection teams have noted that officials insist on the presence of a male head of household, creating obstacles for female-headed households. The registration of IDPs is essential for the provision of much needed and relied upon government support. Protection assessments reveal that 85 per cent of interviewed families have no income. Protection teams continue to identify and support extremely vulnerable families with 1,741 households referred for UNHCR’s multi-purpose cash assistance.
The lack of progress on registration procedures is tied to limited access to civil documentation. This is a prevailing concern among IDPs - of those participating in household level assessments, 47 per cent report missing one or more crucial civil documents. Since 17 October 2016, UNHCR partner teams in the Hasansham and Khazer camps have assisted in the issuance of 700 civil documents such as birth certificates, identity documents (IDs), marriage and death certificates. UNHCR is supporting MoMD registration capacity through mobile units that can reach IDPs in camps who face movement restrictions. However, more efforts are needed to improve consistency and the quality of registration practices, especially to identify and support persons at risk such as female-headed households.
Voluntary and forced returns
The unstable security situation is likely to impact of the sustainability of returns, along with the lack of water, electricity, and the high cost of food. UNHCR partner teams interviewed 25 families in Khazer and Hasansham who halted their return citing information from relatives about the lack of basic services especially electricity and water and the presence of security forces who arbitrarily arrest men and boys in east Mosul. These reports have been corroborated by information from new arrivals, who have reported on the continued attacks by armed groups against civilians and security force positions near the Tigris and other parts of east Mosul.
Despite these concerns, returns to different quarters of Mosul city and surrounding areas such as Intisar, Mithaq, Somar and Gogjali, are ongoing. Departing families cite the desire to regain livelihoods by resuming employment (for those who are civil servants), securing property, and the collection of pension payments. Other families with members who have medical conditions shared plans to proceed to Baghdad or Kirkuk for treatment. In line with previous return trends from Khazer and Hasansham camps, families had knowledge about the prevailing security and livelihood conditions in their areas of origin from relatives and friends who remained or returned earlier. Some returns might be premature but appear voluntary. Families have often changed their minds and deregistered their intention to return, while some have come back to the camps following only a brief return to their place of origin.
In an alarming development, in Kirkuk, authorities resumed a previously halted campaign of forced evictions when Assayish issued nearly 1,000 eviction notices to IDPs from Salah Al-Din, Anbar and Diyala residing in Laylan 1 and Nazrawa camps. The authorities gave the IDPs a deadline of Sunday 19 February 2016, after which they undertook to expel those who did not comply. IDPs who received notices expressed concern over the security conditions in their areas of origin, with allegations that returning family members were abducted by security forces after being deported from Kirkuk or other governorates between September and October 2016. Other families explained that their properties have been destroyed and they have no place to return to. These families will most likely face secondary displacement. UNHCR continues to engage with the governor’s office, MoMD and the Kirkuk IDP Committee for their intervention.
Restrictions on access to safe passage routes
As the Mosul, Hawija and Shirqat military offensives proceed, escape routes are becoming increasingly precarious amidst reports of abductions and intimidation by armed groups. Fewer IDPs have fled Hawija to Kirkuk, with 85 families recorded this week compared to 240 families last week. UNHCR and other protection actors continue to advocate for increased monitoring and identification of safe passage routes for fleeing IDPs.