New Refugees International Report on Returns in Iraq Following the Battle against the Islamic State

Washington, D.C. (September 25, 2017) – Refugees International released a new report today examining the prospects for return of the three million people in Iraq displaced by the protracted battle against the Islamic State (ISIS). The report, Too Much Too Soon: Displaced Iraqis and the Push to Return Home, outlines the challenges of returning to towns and villages across Iraq that have been liberated from ISIS control. The report is based on a fact-finding mission to the northern and central regions of Iraq in July 2017.

“With the battle against ISIS in Iraq reaching its end stages, attention should now turn to the immediate future of the country,” said Daryl Grisgraber, Refugees International Senior Advocate and author of the report. “An essential pillar in rebuilding Iraq will be finding sustainable solutions for the 3.2 million people who currently remain internally displaced. Many of them want to return home, but the government of Iraq continues to struggle to create conditions for return that will allow people to do so in safety and dignity.” 

The internal displacement of millions of Iraqis has been a long-standing issue in Iraq; some three million Iraqi men, women, and children have been newly displaced as a result of ISIS activity since 2014. The displaced Iraqis live in camps, in informal settlements, in rented accommodation, and in host communities throughout the country. The ten-year reconstruction plan for Iraq announced by Iraqi Prime Minister al-Abadi in late June 2017 includes a goal “to return all displaced persons to their places of origin.” In some locations, local officials have expressed eagerness to start that process. However, the Refugees International report underlines serious concerns about how, when, and where these returns can or should take place.

The Refugees International report finds that Iraqis most recently displaced by ISIS activity (who represent a majority of Iraq’s current displaced population) are returning home much too soon. Not only is physical safety a fundamental problem (many areas, especially the ones most recently taken from ISIS, are heavily contaminated with improvised explosive devices and mines), but there is also widespread fear of revenge and retribution killings by and of religious and political groups that perceive others to be their enemies. Moreover, potential returnees are sometimes unwelcome by security forces and local authorities who are unwilling to protect people they consider their opponents, or sympathizers with their opponents. Though some internally displaced persons (IDPs) are spontaneously returning even to unsafe, unprepared areas, others are being pressured to leave their current places of residence against their will. According to customary international law and universal human rights principles, IDPs must not be forced to return.

In addition, the RI report finds, these displaced individuals find basic necessities of daily life hard to come by – an issue of even greater concern when the IDPs return to once embattled towns and villages. Shelter is practically non-existent in some of the areas most damaged by ISIS and by the fight to rout its forces. Access to clean water is a challenge for both IDPs and returnees, and medical services and electricity are not readily available in many places. Earning money to pay for the materials and services crucial for returnees is hardly possible until the nascent reconstruction of Iraq begins in earnest.

In addition, as the focus in Iraq shifts from emergency response to longer-term reconstruction efforts, IDPs who remain displaced and those who return home to largely destroyed communities will continue to need humanitarian aid until the government of Iraq is in a better position to assist its own citizens. Though the humanitarian situation may appear less desperate as military activity wanes, many Iraqis are still critically vulnerable and in need of the support from aid agencies. Funding for humanitarian programming in Iraq must continue to be a priority even as Iraq’s reconstruction gets underway.

Read the full report here.

For interviews with Daryl Grisgraber, please contact Gail Chalef, Senior Communications Officer, at (202) 540-7026 or (202) 290-8608.