There are currently 152,922 women, girls, men and boys displaced from Mosul district and surrounding areas as a result of the military opera-tion to retake Mosul. Notably, the number of families purportedly returning to areas of origin has been higher than the number of displaced persons this week. Limited access to safety, insecurity and the lack of services in return areas, and ad hoc screening and detention by militia have been reported as some of the protection concerns this week.
Access to safety
Internally displaced persons (IDPs) fleeing Mosul, east Shirqat and Hawija endure significant risks and hardships during displacement. Those leaving west Mosul have reported using boats and navigating collapsed bridges over the Tigris towards east Mosul, amidst sniper attacks, before proceeding to the camps. At least 300 families arrived into Hamdaniya camps from neighbourhoods within Mosul city such as Bakr, Rashidiya, Goba, Wana, Tilkaif and Telafar distrcts. While some Hawija IDPs cross the Hamreen mountain into Tikrit, others manage to escape to Kirkuk through Debis, Maktab Khalid and Daquq checkpoints. IDPs from Hawija report that armed groups continue to intimidate fleeing families while boys and men are often abducted and tortured. It is reported that 17 women were allegedly separated from their fami-lies and arrested by armed groups while fleeing Al-Zab sub-district of Hawija towards Shirqat.
Reportedly, armed groups publicly executed at least 12 people in Hawija for communicating with Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) this week. Despite these ongoing threats, families cite increasing security concerns, the lack of access to medical services, electricity and water as the main reasons for fleeing. UNHCR continues to provide shelter support and core relief items to IDPs in the areas of displacement and return. However, there remains a continuous need for author-ities to ensure safe passage for all those escaping conflict areas.
Voluntary, premature, forced and refused returns
UNHCR and partner teams have observed a steady flow of returns to newly retaken areas in Mosul district. It is reported that this week more than 2,500 IDPs returned, purportedly, to areas of origin from Khazer, Hasansham, Qaymawa and Nargizlia camps. Protection interviews continue to be conducted with returnee families to assess voluntariness. Returning families cite liberation of their areas of origin, resumption of livelihood, securing properties and the hardship of living in a tent in winter as the main reasons for returning. The returnees have also stated that they are aware of the high cost of goods in the markets and the lack of services, from informa-tion provided by other returnees. UNHCR continues to monitor these returns in places of displacement and return. This week 93 families from Khazer and Hasansham camps were inter-viewed and all appeared to indicate that their return was voluntary. However, concerns persist about a number of liberated areas that remain under intermittent attack by armed groups, espe-cially those adjacent to the river and within mortar range.
In Qaymawa and Nargizlia camps, departures resumed on 6 February with families returning to Abu Jarbuah, Derij and Birmah. UNHCR notes that the number of families returning to Birmah was significantly lower than the number of families who had signed up for departure as authori-ties had advised against return to the village due to security concerns, alleged military plans and the presence of unexploded ordnance and mines. The returning families informed protection monitors that they have signed the return forms required by the camp management and Asseyesh and have decided to return based on information from relatives and friends left behind and due to the fact that they live in the outskirts of the village and not in Birmah itself.
The remaining families will wait for a clearer picture of the security conditions before resubmit-ting their names for return.
Kirkuk, UNHCR received reports of the detention of eight male IDPs residing in Mujamaa Qadisiya neighbourhood allegedly to pressure them to return. While there have been many voluntary returns to some parts of these three governorates, the security situation in other parts remains unstable with incidents of breaches by armed groups and resultant deaths among returnees. As a result, many returnees are being forced into secondary displacement. UNHCR and other protection actors continue to raise the issues of eviction notices, confiscaion of IDs and threats of detention to compel returns with authorities.
Displaced families from areas that are yet to be cleared,for security or other reasons, continue to express frustration at apparent delays or refusals to allow return. UNHCR has followed up with authorities who have stated that returns to villages such as Tal Reem, Gubabah, Jar Allah and Judaydah remain close to the frontline and will not be approved for now. In Jeddah camps, IDPs from Tel Abda have reported that returns are prohibited by security forces who have stated that security in the areas remains unstable. IDPs have also expressed concern over refused returns to disputed areas with fears that their displacement will be protracted despite these areas being safe for return. Some families report that they have received information that their homes have been burned, looted, that public services and offices are not available and that some areas are still under armed group control increasing the risk of clashes with militia. UNHCR and partners continue to advocate that all returns should be voluntary, safe, dignified and without discrimination.
Ad hoc screening, arbitrary arrest and restriction of movement
UNHCR and other protection actors remain concerned about increasing reports of ad hoc screening and arbitrary arrest by security forces of fleeing and returnee IDPs, particularly for those IDPs who have been relocated to Al Shahama camp after being evicted from host communities and unfinished buildings on allegations of perceived affiliation with armed groups. Inadequate services such as water and access to medical treatment in Al Shahama camp further compounds the vulnerability of these families. Families report that while some are allowed to leave the camp on sponsorship, suspected families are not permitted to leave the camp at all. UNHCR has raised these protection concerns with the authorities who have visited the camp and undertaken to improve conditions and to facilitate freedom of movement. However, the restrictions and poor living conditions persist.
The lack of documentation among Mosul and Hawija IDPs remains a serious protection concern as the lack of civil documentation exposes already vulnerable individuals and families to additional risks such as arrest and detention. IDPs have reported that armed groups are increas-ingly seizing civil documentation from people living under their control to prevent them from leaving. The result is an increase in the number of people using forged documents, which are invariably detected during screening, resulting in arrest. The lack of civil documentation remains a prominent protection concern cited by IDPs and returnees in Ninewa and other conflict affected governorates. UNHCR, through legal partners, continues to provide legal assistance through the civil directorates and courts for lost or seized civil IDs to be reissued while also providing legal representation for those who have been arrested for using forged documents.