BAGHDAD: The decision by Iraqi authorities to close internal displacement camps by 2020 has infuriated families of terrorist victims and threatened thousands of Daesh militants’ family members, local officials and international human rights organizations said on Wednesday.
Some 6 million Iraqis were displaced in northern and western Iraq after Daesh swept the areas and seized most of the cities and towns in 2014 until they were liberated after military operations led by the Iraqi government concluded in October 2017.
Most of those living in displacement camps set up on the outskirts of cities have returned to their homes since the military success, leaving only Daesh-affiliated families, whose communities have refused to allow them to return. According to statistics published by the Iraqi Ministry of Displacement and Migration, the number of people still living in the camps were no more than 93,000 in June. Most of them are staying in Nineveh and Dohuk.
Government sources told Arab News that a decision by the Iraqi National Security Council was made in June to take down all displacement camps across the country and return all people to their homes.
Since then, the Ministry of Displacement and Migration has stepped up efforts to speed up the process of returning families. Dozens were sent back to Anbar province, but protests have escalated over the past three days after Iraqi authorities forced hundreds of Daesh-affiliated families to move from the camps of Hamam Al-Alil and Al-Salamiya in Nineveh to camps in Salahudin and Kirkuk governorates.
On Saturday, around 200 Daesh-linked families mostly from Shirqat town were temporarily transferred from Nineveh’s camps to Al-Basateen camp in northern Salhudin. Before the morning, unknown assailants attacked the camp with three hand grenades. No casualties were reported but the local authorities moved the transferred families to another camp in Tikrit.
The convoy was forced to stop as a number of Daesh victims’ families and local officials set up a human barrier in front of the buses and prevented them from entering the city. The local authorities had to change the destination of the convoy to a nearby camp
“Many of the families of the victims are angry and do not accept the presence of members of the murderers’ families in the same neighborhood or street where their sons or fathers were killed,” Ahmed Al-Kraim, the head of Salahudin provincial council, told Arab News.
“We are trying to find a solution for this situation. There will be a meeting for all the heads of tribes in Salhudin on Monday to tell them that every head of tribe has to take his tribe’s people.
“Who is wanted, will be arrested and the rest will go back to their homes. These are government orders. This issue must be ended.”
Daesh militants committed brutal crimes against the local population in areas they controlled in Iraq and Syria. The failure of the Iraqi government to achieve community reconciliation in a way that ensures justice for the families of the victims and Daesh-linked families has kept the desire for revenge raging between the two parties, especially in
tribal societies such as Salahudin and Anbar.
“Isolating these families in camps outside cities and rejecting them means generating new hatreds and new problems,” Hussein Arab, a member of the displacement and immigration parliamentary committee who works on reconciliation, told Arab News.
“We know that 90 percent of these families are not involved in crimes, but our society is tribal — especially in the liberated areas — and tends to take revenge.
“We have been working to solve the problem radically, and we have tactical plans to return these families to their areas of origin, reintegrate them into society and remove extremist ideas from their brains. The Ministry of Displacement and Migration provides logistical and technical support to the camps, but their resources still limited and we need more government support.”
There are no official statistics showing the number of people who were killed for their links with Daesh. Acts of revenge in tribal societies usually affect men. Most of the men in these families were subjected to strict security measures in case they tried to leave the camps, which kept them away from reprisals, but getting them out of camps means putting them at the mercy of the families of angry victims, observers said.
Several international organizations, including Human Rights Watch (HRW), Amnesty International and the Norwegian Refugee Council have expressed concern over the consequences of forcibly returning these families to their areas of origin.
“Displaced people, like all other Iraqis, have the right to move freely in their country and decide where they feel safe to live,” said Lama Fakih, acting Middle East director at HRW.
“Authorities can’t move people without first consulting them, especially not to places where they and their families face danger.”