After the Iraqi government declared “big victory” over the Islamic State last July, thousands of internally displaced Iraqis have found themselves facing mounting legal challenges, according to a new report by the Norwegian Refugee Council.
Today, approximately 870,00 Iraqi children are displaced across the nation. About 45,000 of those children currently reside in displacement camps, lacking Iraqi-recognized civil identification that bars them from accessing basic rights.
These numbers are expected to swell in the coming weeks, as the government prepares for the return of 30,000 repatriated Iraqis from Syria. According to the NRC, 90 percent of them are wives and children with suspected ties to ISIS militants.
While the NRC, International Red Cross, Danish Refugee Council and other local and global NGOs coordinate a humanitarian response for returning and currently displaced Iraqis, identification is a crucial first step.
As Bruno Geddo, the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) Representative in Iraq said, civil documents are the “stepping stones on the road to recovery.”
Not all individuals are impacted by the displacement equally. Widowed Iraqi women or those with missing husbands face the greatest challenges to obtaining documentation for themselves and their children.
According to the NRC report, many recently married women lost or faced destruction of their documentation while fleeing ISIS control. Proof of marriage and proof of circumstances of their husbands death are necessary requirements to obtain documentation – leaving many of these women with little remedy should they lack both documents.
For these women’s children, the outlook remains similarly bleak. Lineage can be inherited in Iraq through mother or father, but requires an official marriage certificate to prove. Thus, children under five – those born when ISIS was in power – face the the most burdensome challenges to obtaining documentation, should a father be ISIS-affiliated and deceased, and the surviving mother lacks identification. Without an official birth certificate, acquiring identification is nearly impossible.
For other children born under ISIS control who do possess birth certificates, the Iraqi government will not recognize them as legitimate if they were certified by ISIS officials.
#IRAQ: More than 1 year since the declared ‘victory’ over IS, 1.7 million people are still displaced in their own country. Out of the 4 million returnees, many are struggling to rebuild their lives. We support displaced Iraqis with their legal identity & civil documents. pic.twitter.com/gBjrPy4uVz
— NRC (@NRC_Norway) May 2, 2019
Societal exclusion poses a major burden for women trying to secure documentation for themselves and their children.
“Women who are either missing ID or who have husbands who are dead but without a death certificate to prove the circumstances of that death are often perceived to be affiliated with ISIS,” Alexandra Saieh, a spokesperson for the NRC stationed in Iraq, told The Globe Post.
The Norwegian Refugee Council receives approximately 170 cases a month solely from these most-difficult to remedy situations that they are unable to assist.
Saieh said the NRC is working to help change the situation for those individuals who face “almost impossible” outlooks for obtaining identification.
The NRC is presently “advocating with the Iraqi authorities and with donors to de-link the security link process from the civil ID reclamation process at an operational level and to allow children to get birth certificates solely based on the mother’s identification cards,” she said.
Until then, neighborhood finger pointing and ties to ISIS on the government’s security database pose restrictive barriers on obtaining any form of documentation.
— NRC (@NRC_Norway) May 1, 2019
With no complications, obtaining documentation can take up to six months – yet, everyday without identification can mean life or death for many families with limited access to social services.
Often “at the whim of civil authorities,” families can find themselves unable to access health care due to freedom of movement restrictions that arise when women try to travel with their children to out-of-camp hospitals without paperwork. For women giving birth today, vaccinations are restricted unless both parents are present with identification to obtain a birth certificate for the child.
Access to education also remains a chief concern for children without identification. One in five families living outside of the camps face challenges to registering their children for school, despite a 2018 Ministry of Education directive allowing registration without identification, according to the NRC report.
This week, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs appealed to the international community for $701 million in funds to support highly vulnerable people, including internally displaced people.
“Our clear focus in 2019 is on helping all vulnerable returnees and displaced people resume a normal life in safety and dignity. This also means continuing assistance to displaced people for whom returning to home areas is not an option, until alternative, sustainable solutions can be found,” Ayman Gharaibeh, the acting Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, said.