Many internally displaced Iraqis do not seek to leave camps to return home anytime within the next three months, citing a need for more security and safe passage back, among other issues, according to a survey of 1,600 households done by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
For the first time since 2014, the number of people returning to their area of origin outnumbered the total of those remaining displaced, but that number is slowing and the survey shows a marked difference in attitudes on leaving displacement camps.
According to the report, there was a clear difference between internally displaced persons (IDPs) living in the northern governorates of Dahuk, Erbil, Ninewa and Sulaymaniyah and the southern province of Salah al-Din.
“In the northern governorates, over 80 percent of respondents expressed an intention to remain, whereas in Salah al-Din, less than 40 percent voiced a desire to remain in displacement and half expressed being undecided whether to return or to stay,” the report said.
Haissam Minkara, Deputy Country Director in Iraq for Oxfam, said returning home should be the decision of the Iraqi people, and it should happen in a dignified way.
“Many displaced people in Iraq don’t feel safe to return home, whether it be due to the level of destruction to their homes, lack of services in the areas they come from, and because many areas still have not been cleared of unexplored ordinates from the conflict with ISIS,” he told The Globe Post.
Those who said they wanted to stay in IDP camps, which are notorious for being overcrowded and having subpar living conditions, said their main reason for staying is fear of trauma upon returning. They are waiting for safe passage to return and safety from explosive hazards, landmines and poor infrastructure meltdowns in their provinces. In addition, most expressed a need for the security of basic living conditions and reconstruction of their homes upon returning.
The northern region of Iraq is still plagued by leftover Islamic State fighters, demolished buildings, and regular bombings. Those living in the region are looking to leave to either IDP camps or asylum placeholders in other countries.
“We must not just rebuild what was there before – we have to do better than that. We need to prioritize the most vulnerable people who lost everything in the battle against ISIS, young people who missed out on years of education, and women and men whose freedom was severely curtailed,” Minkara said.
“For there to be stability and peace in Iraq, everyone must be allowed to return home or set up a new home, rejoin society and have a stake in the future of the country.”