'Desolate and deadly': Weary Iraqis forced to return to ruined, booby-trapped areas (VIDEO)
In early January, disturbing reports emerged in international media, suggesting the Iraqi authorities are forcibly sending people from refugee camps to their home districts – despite these being unsafe, or even destroyed, in the conflict.
While Baghdad denies that people are being sent back against their will, Iraqi refugees, who were filmed by an RT stringer (local contributor), say there are valid reasons for them to oppose forced return.
“We don’t want to return to our home yet,” said a young man stranded in an IDP [Internally Displaced Person] camp for three years. He said his family’s house is looted and “there’s a lot of booby-traps.” Due to tribal divides, they also fear things might turn violent if they return, the refugee added.
Explosive remnants of war are lying all over the place there, he went on: “Five days ago our neighbors there started a fire to warm some water. Something went off and their kids are in hospital… It’s so scary there.”
Another refugee, an old villager, told the RT stringer his family are ready to go if the government reimbursed their return as well as the costs of rebuilding damaged houses.
Many buildings, including residential blocks, have been destroyed by airstrikes in the fighting between the Iraqi military and Islamists, he said.
“There are very few people from our village who returned. There is nothing left there, no electricity, and the water supply doesn’t work. We may return in the future, but only when the area will be suitable for living.”
Other refugees in the Iraqi province of Anbar, told Ruptly agency their return home comes at a cost. “They asked us for a huge fee to come back, they charge 500,000 dinar (over $400) for each ID,” said Hasan, a man displaced from Fallujah.
The issue of IDPs being forcibly sent home came to light as Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Abadi seeks to secure a second term in a general election in May. Iraqi residents must stay in their area of origin to vote, and their refusal to return could delay the election.
The UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates that more than half of displaced Iraqis have already returned to where they come from, with 2.6 million still displaced.
Some observers say forced return of IDPs has nothing to do with relief or stabilization efforts. “If your home is rubble, and there are corpses lying in the street, and there are explosives and mines littering your former home, no, you shouldn’t be compelled to return,” David Swanson, an American activist and author of the book ‘War Is a Lie’, told RT.
“That’s not humanitarian aid, that’s further humanitarian abuse.”