HIGHLIGHTS: Thousands of IDPs are fleeing west Mosul daily, with 287,250 currently displaced since the onset of the military offensive on 17 October 2016. Access to safety is increasingly becoming more challenging for IDPs fleeing areas that remain under the control of extremist groups. For those who manage to flee, access to safety remains a challenge, with risks en route ranging from physical assaults to family separation. On the other hand, in areas of return in east Mosul, insecurity continues to persist including the presence of militias. UNHCR and partner protection teams are engaged in addressing these protection concerns.
The military offensive to retake west Mosul, which started on 19 February 2017, continues with the daily displacement of thousands of families transiting through Hammam Al-Alil screening site from a mix of retaken and non-retaken areas in west Mosul. IDPs report that in addition to the shelling and security concerns, lack of water and medical services remains dire in west Mosul with no water for the past 40-45 days in some neighbourhoods.
From Hammam Al-Alil screening site, IDPs are mostly going into host communities in Gogachly,
Hammam Al-Alil village, Qayyarah town, Shirqat and also to Nargizlia camp. This week, Jad’ah V camp opened and all 3,500 plots were fully occupied within two days. UNHCR protection teams have also received reports of some families briefly returning to west Mosul areas like Mamoun to check on remaining family members, livestock and personal property.
In addition to forced displacement out of west Mosul, an increasing number of families are fleeing Tel Afar and Sabuniya area which remains under armed opposition groups’ control. IDPs report walking for days before reaching Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) positions from where they are then transported to Scorpion junction. Moreover, displacement out of east Mosul, Hawiga and east Shirqat continues.
Families fleeing Hawiga and east Shirqat, which both remain in control of extremist groups, report sniper attacks on those fleeing and aggravated violence against those apprehended. These risks have reportedly reduced the number of families able to escape and reach safety.
Access to safety and presence of armed actors
Access to safety for IDPs from Hawiga is increasingly challenging. Many risk retaliation from the extremist groups still controlling the district if they are caught trying to flee, while IDPs also face suspicion from authorities and have to undergo multiple layers of screening to reach safety. Militias continue to control access to Al Alam camp with many IDPs reporting that they are being pushed to Daquq district in Kirkuk rather than being allowed into Tikrit, while other families are ending up in Al Shahama and Al Karama camps in Salah al-Din Governorate.
Armed actors are becoming a persistent feature within IDP camps, especially in Jad’ah, Hammam Al-Alil and Haj Ali camps, despite repeated efforts by humanitarian actors and camp managers to assert the civilian character of camps. IDPs frequently report feeling threatened by the presence of armed actors and the risk of intimidation of vulnerable IDPs especially female headed households.
Interventions by humanitarian partners to address this extremely concerning development are ongoing with relevant stakeholders.
Family separation continues to be a serious protection concern. New screening procedures for IDPs from west Mosul allow women and children to be transferred from Baghdad circle in west Mosul directly to Hammam Al-Alil screening site, while males are first taken to Scorpion junction screening site before joining their families in Hammam Al-Alil. Protection partners are working to identify separated adults and children but have noted that there is an increasing delay in the arrival of male relatives. At times the situation is made worse because many IDPs from west Mosul do not have mobile phones through which they can communicate with separated family members.
Lack of civil documentation
At least 48 per cent of IDPs who have been interviewed during protection household assessments report that they are missing one form of civil documentation that has either been lost during flight or was confiscated by armed groups or by security officials during screening. Protection partners continually prioritise engaging with authorities to ensure that IDPs’ documents are not seized and that efforts are made to return identification documents (IDs) following completion of screening procedures.
UNHCR teams in Hasansham and Khazer camps, east of Mosul, have been instrumental in facilitating the issuance of large numbers of civil IDs. Civil documentation is a crucial protection document for citizens to access services and for exercising freedom of movement. Mobile teams are operating in Kirkuk camps with the support of protection partners to identity documentation needs and to provide assistance to IDPs who cannot access services outside of camps.
Despite severe challenges, returns to east Mosul are ongoing with IDPs reporting the desire to reunite with relatives and to reoccupy their homes. Returns are, however, happening at a much slower pace than in previous months. In Qaymawa camp, northeast of Mosul, returns were halted due to Nowruz until this week, when 71 families returned to Bawiza, Barema, Aboujarboua and Mosul city.
IDPs in Nargizlia camp, 30 km northeast of Mosul, continue to await authorities’ approval for returns to resume. The lack of communication from the authorities is creating frustrations among the IDPs.
UNHCR has raised the issue with Asseyish who explained that final approval was pending with Dohuk authorities.
On a positive note, the Governor of Kirkuk has approved the gradual return of IDPs to Qaratapa village. IDPs were evicted from the village in September 2016. So far, 66 families out of 430 have returned with at least 50 more families scheduled to return soon.
Authorities are yet to approve returns to disputed territories such as Zummar, Sheikhan, Rabiaa, and Al Qush. IDPs from these areas have been enquiring about the return clearance process as some IDPs have been allowed to return while others have not, apparently based on ethnic considerations.
UNHCR continues to advocate for safe, voluntary and non-discriminatory returns for all IDPs.
Forced evictions and returns
Most recently 1,000 IDP families from Khaladiya camps in Anbar have been instructed to leave the camp despite their inability to return to their places of origin. Interventions by UNHCR are underway.
UNHCR’s protection team in Kirkuk remains concerned about the intermittent eviction notificaions to IDPs from Anbar, Diyala and Salah Al-Din. In Yaychi, Qadisyah and Taza sub-districts, authorities have resumed exerting indirect pressure on IDPs by limiting IDPs’ access to assistance and basic services, including but not limited to food and education, thereby compelling them to return to their places of origin. UNHCR has raised this issue of forced evictions and returns with the Kirkuk IDP Committee but the situation remains unchanged. Similarly, in Basra, the Ministry of Trade suspended distribution of food rations to IDPs from Anbar and Salah al-Din. Protection monitoring indicates that 85 per cent of IDP households have no income and are therefore dependent on the government distribution system and humanitarian aid. Withholding food from vulnerable IDPs without exploring and addressing the reasons for non-return violates humanitarian principles for voluntary returns.
UNHCR continues to engage with authorities to advocate for voluntary and dignified returns.