Thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Iraq fear they will be forced out of their camps in the northern province of Nineveh, which hosts nearly 2,400 families, advocacy groups told Al Jazeera rights and refugees.
Tens of thousands of Iraqis have taken refuge in refugee camps in Nineveh province, driven from their homes by the war against the armed group ISIL (ISIS). ISIL was defeated in 2017 almost three years after taking control of large swathes of Iraq and neighboring Syria.
Most of the camps in the province have since been closed, but Jedaa camp, about 65 kilometers (40 miles) south of the city of Mosul, still hosts refugees who are afraid to return home due to the conditions. security.
“The authorities are telling every family in the camp to leave. They are pressuring us to complete the security clearances and compensation papers that we would need after we left the camp, ”Wedad Ahmed, 53, told Al Jazeera from Jedaa camp.
“I have four children and my mother-in-law with me in the tent. My husband died in a mortar attack three years ago, ”she said, adding that she had nowhere to go.
Activists and aid groups on the ground, who wished to remain anonymous, said on Monday that the Ministry of Displacement and Migration had instructed the camp’s mukhtars – men who often serve as leaders of their communities – to inform all the families of Tal Abta, al- Immediate departure from the districts of Mahalabiya and al-Jaban.
The Iraqi government decided to close the IDP camps last October and has since pressured the IDPs to return to their homes in other parts of Iraq. But aid groups say these areas lack basic infrastructure and that refugees’ homes have yet to be rebuilt since ISIL’s territorial defeat in 2017.
In November, humanitarian agencies raised concerns on the government’s decision. The refugees are also afraid that their former neighbors might assume they are associated with ISIS and kill them for it.
But the authorities seem to have ignored the concerns of the refugees.
A woman from Jedaa camp said that she and her family were forced to leave the camp and were now on their way to Mosul.
“We were forced to leave by the police. We have nothing in our village of Qausaja in the town of al-Qayyarah. They told us we had to leave even if we ended up on the street, ”Shukria Khalaf Salih Tarfa told Al Jazeera.
Aid groups and international agencies have warned that closing the camp could leave hundreds of people without food or shelter amid the coronavirus pandemic and harsh winter.
In a tweet Thursday, EU Ambassador to Iraq Martin Huth expressed concern over the closure of the Jedaa dah camp, calling for a “voluntary, organized and dignified return” of the displaced.
“Deeply disturbed by reports of the continued and uncoordinated closure of the Al-Jed’a IDP camp by the Iraqi authorities, which will likely lead to further secondary displacement,” he said.
“The EU supports voluntary, organized and dignified return allowing IDPs to reintegrate in a safe and sustainable manner.”
Government denies forced eviction
But the Ministry of Immigration and Displacement denies that the refugees are being forced to leave the camp.
“We have an order to close the Jedaa 5 camp, but it will not be done forcefully if their places of origin are not safe for them to return, we will not send them back”, Ali Abass Jangir, spokesperson ministry, told Al Jazeera.
Rights groups have warned that returning refugees risk retaliation from some of ISIL’s victims and will be deprived of their basic rights and risk becoming a permanent underclass.
“The Iraqi authorities and the KRG [Kurdish Regional Government] must fight against the continued collective punishment of IDPs with perceived links to the IS [ISIL] as an integral part of any national camp closure plan – currently the only shelter option for thousands of people, ”said Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s deputy regional director for the Middle East and South Africa. North, in a press release in November.
“Addressing these injustices is the only way to ensure a safe and dignified return, otherwise they risk perpetuating the kind of actions that sow the seeds of future cycles of violence.”
In December, the UN expressed “grave concern at the thousands of civilians who have been displaced from IDP camps over the past six weeks and have yet to find new homes.”
The Iraqi government has closed or consolidated 11 IDP camps and reclassified two as informal sites since October, affecting more than 27,000 people, according to the UN.
About 1.3 million people are still displaced across Iraq, including Nineveh, up from 6 million at the height of the sectarian conflict.
Meanwhile, in the camp, the feeling of fear is palpable.
“The police told us that if we didn’t leave the camps, they would set them on fire,” Samir Mahmood Abdu-AlJabar, 35, told Al Jazeera in Jedaa camp.
“I told them you could kill me here because I know I won’t survive outside the camp.