Aid groups: Iraqi authorities push refugees to return home

An Iraqi girl collects water from a container outside her tent at the area of Akashat at the Iraq-Syrian border. (AFP /Mohammed Khodor)
Updated 28 February 2018

Aid groups: Iraqi authorities push refugees to return home

BAGHDAD: Iraqi authorities are increasing pressure on families in camps in western Anbar province, displaced during the war against Daesh, to return to their homes ahead of national elections in May, international aid agencies warned on Wednesday.
The 2014 Daesh blitz that resulted in the capture of large areas of territory in northern and western Iraq, and the more-than-three-year war against Daesh that followed, displaced nearly 6 million people. More than half have returned to their homes, but about 2.6 million people are still uprooted.
The Danish Refugee Council, the International Rescue Committee and the Norwegian Refugee Council said the drive comes as Iraqi officials have suggested they would like to see people move back to vote because it isn't currently possible to vote in displacement camps.
"It's tragic to think that people feel safer in camps than in their homes when this conflict has supposedly ended," said Petr Kostohryz, NRC country director in Iraq.
The Iraqi government denies forcing internally displaced families to return against their will.
"Though the government policy and main goal is to encourage a quick return of displaced families to their areas of origin, this must be voluntarily and not by forcing them to do so," the government spokesman, Saad al-Hadithi, told The Associated Press.
"The government orders ... are clear: any return must be voluntarily, not against their will," he added. "Any party that acts against these orders will face punishment."
The 32-page report, titled "The Long Road Home," includes interviews with people living in displacement camps in Anbar. It found that 84 percent of the displaced families feel safer in camps than back home, and more than 50 percent have homes that are damaged or destroyed.
Some of the families, the agencies said, face the possibility of death or serious injury from unexploded bombs, while lack of services and retribution against those perceived to have links with IS have pushed others into secondary displacement.
"People are afraid of retribution, unexploded bombs, or simply have nowhere to return to," Kostohryz said. "There can be no hope for peace in Iraq if the authorities cannot guarantee that people can go back home safely."
Between November and December 2017, about 9,000 people were forced from three displacement camps in Anbar back to their homes as well as others in the capital, Baghdad, the report showed.
The report said many of the returns "are premature and do not meet international standards of safety, dignity, and voluntariness."
In December, Iraq's government declared victory over IS. But the victory came at a high price as the war left thousands of homes and infrastructure partially damaged or destroyed at a time when the country is also struggling with economic woes.


British MPs urge UK government to recognize Palestine

Updated 52 min 11 sec ago

British MPs urge UK government to recognize Palestine

  • Palestinian envoy welcomes cross-party call ahead of visit by Prince Charles

LONDON: A group of British MPs has called for the UK to recognize the state of Palestine ahead of a visit by Prince Charles to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.

In a letter to The Times, the MPs, along with figures from think tanks and pressure groups, said the move was long overdue and would help fulfill Britain’s “promise of equal rights for peoples in two states.” 

The call comes as the heir to the British throne travels on Thursday to Israel and the occupied West Bank. 

During the visit, he will meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin in Jerusalem. 

Prince Charles will also attend the World Holocaust Forum to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp. 

The letter said since 2014, no meaningful progress has been made in the peace process, and Israel’s actions are pushing a two-state solution beyond reach.

“Illegal Israeli settlements, described by the Foreign Office as undermining peace efforts, are expanding,” the letter said.

Among the signatories are Emily Thornberry, a candidate for the Labour Party leadership, and Crispin Blunt, chairman of the Conservative Middle East Council.

Husam Zomlot, the Palestinian envoy to the UK, welcomed the move but said full recognition from the British government should have happened many years ago.

“Recognition doesn’t contradict peacemaking and negotiations,” Zomlot told Arab News, referring to the main argument used by the UK against taking such a step. 

“It reinforces the vision (of a Palestinian state) and a negotiated two-state solution. It should happen now because of the threat of annexation (of Palestinian territory) and the killing of the two-state solution.”

FASTFACT

Prince Charles will also attend the World Holocaust Forum to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp. 

Alistair Carmichael, a Liberal Democrat MP who signed the letter, told Arab News that the policies of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government toward Palestine “makes the achievement of a two-state solution more and more remote with every week that passes.”

He said: “The UK has historic and political obligations toward Israelis and Palestinians. There’s now no longer any good reason not to recognize the state of Palestine.”

A spokesman for Labour MP Fabian Hamilton, who also signed the letter, told Arab News: “The fact that this has cross-party support shows the growing desire across Parliament for the recognition of a Palestinian state and a two-state solution.”

Chris Doyle, director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding, said the international community needs to finally stand up for the solution that it has had on the table for decades.

Doyle, an Arab News columnist, said the letter is an “indication that many people in British politics think we should be doing this, we should be standing up for the Palestinian right to self-determination, the legal rights, at a time when the state of Israel is doing everything to stop this, to take more land from the Palestinians.”

The letter was timed to coincide with a meeting of European foreign ministers on Monday, who discussed the Middle East peace process.

The Palestinian Authority, which runs parts of the West Bank, has been increasing calls for European countries to recognize the state of Palestine as the US has shifted to a more pro-Israel stance, including recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017.

Writing in The Guardian on Monday, Saeb Erekat, secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said Europe could strengthen its role in the peace process if it recognized Palestine.

“European recognition of this state is not only a European responsibility but a concrete way to move towards a just and lasting peace,” he said.

Only nine out of the 28 EU countries have so far recognized Palestine as a state, compared to 138 out of the 193 UN member states.

In 2011, the UK’s then-Foreign Minister William Hague said the British government “reserves the right” to recognize Palestine “at a time of our own choosing, and when it can best serve the cause of peace.”

In 2012, the UN General Assembly voted to upgrade Palestine’s status to that of “nonmember observer state.”