This week, UNHCR and partners continued to scale up the response in anticipation of a surge in displacement from Mosul, Hawiga, and Shirqat. Since the military operations began on 17 October, over 283,000 people have been displaced from Mosul and surrounding areas. Over 215,000 are still displaced (as of 9 March), including 57,000 displaced from west Mosul since 19 February. The security and protection environment in retaken areas continue to be precarious due to presence of militias and severe shortages of food and water. Separation of families at the security screening site in Hamman Al-Alil is a major protection concern, along with UXOs and IEDs which have led to fatalities among fleeing IDPs
Separation of families
Displaced families from west Mosul are being separated at the Scorpion/Al-Aghrab checkpoints, with women and children being moved to the Hammam Al-Alil camp after body and luggage checks. Men and boys are also screened at the same checkpoints, before being transferred for further screening to Hammam Al-Alil screening site. In a number of cases, women and children were transferred to camps before their male family members have completed the screening process. This practice unfortunately leads to numerous instances of family separation across camps in Khazer, Hasansham, Chamakor,
Hammam Al-Alil, Jad’ah, Haj Ali, and Qayyarah Airstrip camps.
In camps east and south of Mosul, protection partners identify separated families upon arrival and systematically flag them to camp management for family reunification. IDPs who are aware of the location of their family members are reunited as soon as possible. When IDPs do not know the whereabouts of their relatives, protection partners and camp management work in unison to reunify families. In Hammam Al-Alil, camp management has shared a list of 50 men separated from their families and UNHCR is working to identify their families in order to initiate family reunification.
Restrictions on freedom of movement
Since 17 October 2016, when military operations to retake the city began, the majority of IDPs who fled Mosul, face severe restrictions on their freedom of movement outside camps. This de facto encampment policy negatively impact IDPs’ ability to access protection and health services outside the camps, when needed. Due to the ongoing influx from West Mosul, protection actors have flagged the need for additional health personnel and medication to respond to the needs of the population in Hasansham M2. UNHCR has urged MSF to deploy a medical team to temporarily fill the gap. In Hammam Al-Alil, where all IDPs from west Mosul transit before being transferred to camps, UNHCR also coordinated with a local organisation, DARY, which provides medical services in the medical clinic to provide round the clock medical services to the new arrivals in the reception centre, which has sheltered up to 13,000 IDPs daily this week. UNHCR has obtained commitments from the security forces that partners providing medical services and other protection actors will have unhindered humanitarian access in the camps.
In Al-Shahama camp in Salah al-Din, UNHCR and protection partners successfully intervened with the authorities to facilitate movement outside the camp for IDPs with special needs such as access to medical facilities, hospitals or legal assistance. In Qaymawa and Nargizlia camps, northeast of Mosul, restriction of movements is severe and continues to seriously impact access to services. Lack of coordination by security services has led to incidents where IDPs who were granted permission by the Asayesh to access services outside the camps were being turned back at checkpoints. UNHCR continues to urge the authorities to provide freedom of movement to IDPs on a non-discriminatory basis.
Access to safety
The ongoing military offensive in west Mosul, dire security situation in retaken neighbourhoods of the city, and severe shortages of basic necessities such as food, water, and healthcare are contributing to an influx of IDPs from west Mosul. Most IDPs have arrived in Hammam Al-Alil camp but also in Khazer, Hasansham, Chamakor, Jad’ah, Haj Ali, Qaymawa and Nargizlia camps.
Those with relatives in east Mosul, Nimrud, As-Salamiyah, Hammam Al-Alil town have moved to live with them. Families arrive exhausted, famished, traumatized but relieved to find safety in the camps.
IDPs informed protection actors that, during the last week, that all residents were asked to keep their doors open at all times and make holes in their walls for their fighters to move between houses with ease. The fighters also burnt civilian cars, mattresses and furniture on the streets to reduce airreduce air forces visibility of the area. Owing to the grave risks involved in fleeing, IDPs had to flee their houses at night under cover of darkness to avoid snipers. Many people were injured by mortars while trying to flee.
UNHCR has scaled up its response at Hammam Al-Alil which is the main gathering point for IDPs from west Mosul. Due to the large numbers of new arrivals, families wait hours and sometimes days for security screening. UNHCR has established a reception centre nearby to provide basic humanitarian assistance to IDPs. The centre, which currently assists 13,000 individuals per day, provides interim shelter, blankets and mattresses. Humanitarian partners are onsite to provide medical support, water, and food and protection teams daily monitor IDPs’ needs and identify vulnerable individuals, whom are promptly referred to specialized partners for further assistance.
People also continue to flee from retaken areas of east Mosul especially northeast Mosul. The Rashidiya quarter is particularly affected due to continuous mortar attacks, fear of ISIL infiltration and severe shortages of essential services. Substantial secondary displacement is also noted with families who had sought refuge in unoccupied houses leaving for camps when the legal owners return. This week, UNHCR’s protection partner identified an additional four families who came back to the camps after returning to Mosul. They are from Karama and Quds quarters in east Mosul and cited the security situation and lack of food, water, and basic self-reliance opportunities as reasons for going back to the camps.
Barred returns and evictions
Despite security and humanitarian concerns, scores of families continue to return, purportedly, to retaken areas of origin. At the same time, some families continue to be refused the right to return to their areas of origin. In the north, Dohuk authorities have barred returns to certain villages in the disputed areas of Zummar, Wanaa, Rabia’a, and Alqush for IDPs currently in Qaymawa and Nargizlia camps. Again, protection actors have noticed a troubling development whereby certain IDPs are allowed to return to their areas of origin or relocate elsewhere in KR-I, while other ethnicities are not.
Arab IDPs have been pleading to be allowed to return to their villages of origin in the disputed areas but so far have not been allowed to, despite repeated UNHCR interventions.
Incidents of barred returns are also reported from other Governorates across the country including Anbar, Diyala and Salah al-Din. While some barred returns especially in Anbar and Salah al-Din appear linked to claims of affiliations to armed groups, in other instances (e.g in Muqdadiya, other parts of Diyala, and Ninewa), they appear linked to demographic considerations and the issue of disputed internal border areas, with troubling reports of confiscation and destruction of properties, forced/pressured sales of land, and demands for exorbitant payments for return approvals.
UNHCR is urging the authorities at all levels to halt evictions, highlighting the risk to the safety and well-being of the families, including the foreseeable risk of secondary displacement and retaliatory revenge attacks. UNHCR and other protection actors urge the authorities to take legal measures against individuals suspected of having collaborated or committed criminal offences in accordance with rule of law and international standards, while avoiding collective punishments that penalize entire groups for the actions of a few.