In the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI), a dusty camp for internally displaced people (IDPs) houses about 5,000 Iraqis, many of whom fled the Islamic State (ISIS) when the extremist group seized control of their villages in northern Iraq. In its attack on Sinjar during the summer of 2014, ISIS murdered or abducted thousands—and to this day, survivors do not know the fate of family members who disappeared in the ISIS assault. Many of the people who were able to avoid or escape the Sinjar massacre had come to Iraqi Kurdistan for safety.
While anticipation of the Mosul offensive continues to build – along with concern about the consequent displacement that could overwhelm nearby areas – the reality is that Mosul’s military offensive and displacement crisis started some time ago. In the past several months, more than 100,000 people have fled the areas around Qayyara and Shirqat, two towns taken by Iraqi fighting forces as part of the military approach to Mosul itself.
At its height in mid-2014, the Islamic State (ISIS) controlled more than 40 percent of Iraq. Now, a counter-offensive by the Iraqi Army, pro-government militias, and allied nations has pushed ISIS out of many areas it once held. This has given a glimmer of hope to Iraq’s 3.4 million internally displaced people (IDPs): after years of exile, they have a chance to return home. Refugees International visited a town in Anbar province where returning families spoke about the challenges of rebuilding their homes, their lives, and their community.
The huge number of internally displaced people (IDPs) in Iraq – and the possibility that by the end of the year there could be two million more – has recently recaptured some attention in the news. In early May, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General for Iraq, Ján Kubiš, declared the humanitarian crisis in Iraq to be “one of the world’s worst”, and the Global Report on Internal Displacement 2016 from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre included the fact that over half of the global total of IDPs reside in Yemen, Syria, and Iraq alone.
Imagine that your own birth was never officially recorded. Your family members and friends would know you, and know that you exist. You might receive services from local organizations, like the church or the fire department. But what would happen when it’s time to enroll in school, get a job, or apply for a driver’s license? Now imagine all of this is happening to you in a foreign country. You fled your home because of war. But when it’s time to return home with the rest of your family, how could you prove that you belong there? How could you convince anyone that you, too, had rights in the country that you consider home?