BEIRUT, LEBANON (4:50 A.M.) – Displaced people from the Iraqi city of Fallujah living in a camp in Khalidiya, al-Anbar Province, shared their stories of trying and failing to return to their homes on Tuesday, a day before Iraq’s Ministry of Displacement and Migration Spokesperson said the Iraqi government would encourage the voluntary return of willing displaced people to areas liberated from the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL).
Displaced persons at Hay Al-Jameh camp, near Baghdad, also recounted their hopes and fears around the possibility of returning to their homes.
Speaking from Khalidiya, Hasan Agob recounted being displaced for four years, and of not having the necessary fee asked at the al-Soqour checkpoint to leave the area. Citing a recent bomb explosion, Agob added that his family’s area still had to be completely cleared from improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and wartime debris.
A man called Falah also gave his testimony, saying he had been in Khalidiya for a year and a half and that “we don’t want to stay in camps indefinitely.” He called on the government to allow him and Khalidiya residents to “go back to our cleared homes.”
“We’ve been stuck here for more than one and a half years, still at the camp. It is cold here, very cold. And in the summer, very hot. Hot and cold, we have been through it all,” Falah said.
Speaking from the Hay Al-Jameh camp near Baghdad, Aref, a displaced person from Mosul, said “now they are asking us to return to our homes, part of them has collapsed and the other has been looted. There is no one to depend on and it is winter season.”
“We demand the United Nations and the European community intervene so no one can force us to return to our homes,” he stressed.
Explaining her fears of returning home, Anmar, also from Mosul, said: “ISIS members are still in the tunnels there.” She added: “here is better for us. We have a roof here at least while there we have nothing, and the street is the only place for us.”
On Wednesday, Ministry of Displacement and Migration Spokesperson Satar Nawrauz said the Iraqi government’s policy was to “encourage the voluntary return of displaced [people] who are willing to go back.”
According to a statement by ruling coalition MP Rasul Radi on Wednesday, the government would allow displaced people to return only when their areas are clear and secure, and the returns would never be forced.
According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), fighting between IS (and affiliates) and Iraqi government forces has left three million internally displaced persons (IDP) across Iraq, and more than 11 million in need of humanitarian assistance.