The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) – a ECRE member organisation – has warned that authorities in Iraq have rapidly closed down camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) across the country, leaving 100,000 people destitute in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and as winter approaches.

Internally displaced people are being forced out of camps in Baghdad, Kerbala, Divala, Suleimaniya, Anbar, Kirkuk and Ninewa by Iraqi authorities who expect them to return to their areas of origin. More than 600 households have left NRC-managed Hammam Al Alil Camp close to Mosul which is planned to close by next week. Nearly half of the people who were evicted from camps in Baghdad and Kerbala in the past weeks were not able to return to their areas of origins, according to the IOM. Many end up in precarious settings on the edge of cities and towns, in damaged, unsafe apartments or unfinished buildings, lacking basic necessities and healthcare, and are forced into further displacement. “Closing camps before residents are willing or able to return to their homes does little to end the displacement crisis. On the contrary, it keeps scores of displaced Iraqis trapped in this vicious cycle of displacement, leaving them more vulnerable than ever, especially in the middle of a raging pandemic,” said NRC Secretary General Jan Egeland.

Today, about 1.3 million people remain internally displaced. In August 2019, Iraqi authorities started to close down camps for internally displaced people and remain committed to close them all. Many of those staying in camps come from regions that are still totally destroyed and people who try to return risk to be blocked or even arrested at checkpoints. Of the 4.6 million internally displaced people who have returned to their areas of origin since 2017, more than half returned to difficult living conditions. The recent alert on rapid closures comes at a time when Iraq is facing rising cases of CIVID-19 infections and as winter approaches.

The NRC has called on the Iraqi government to provide a clear plan for camp closures and inform families at least one moth in advance so they could make necessary arrangements. Furthermore, authorities should ensure coordination with receiving districts so that returnees are not turned away at checkpoints and involve humanitarian organisations so returnees can receive crucial support. “Anything short of such measures will expose tens of thousands of displaced Iraqis to continued deprivation, rejection and violence,” Jan Egeland said.

Photo: @mhrezaa on Unsplash

This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.