Refugees from northern Iraq’s Nineveh province said in interviews this week they regret returning home, as their villages still have no basic services six years after an invasion by the Islamic State terror group forced them to flee the area.
Kurdish news agency Rudaw on Thursday interviewed several refugees who had recently returned to the Nineveh village of Garhan from Syria’s Al Hol refugee camp. A man named Ahmed Faisal told Rudaw he has come to regret the decision to return, as he and his family are currently living in a tent without access to basic services.
“Before we returned, they [government authorities] said there would be services, but there is nothing, no water, no electricity. I have two wives and have been forced to leave the camp,” Faisal explained.
He referred to authorities in the Kurdish-led Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (NES) and federal Iraq, who have recently accelerated a push to close down displacement camps in the region.
Faisal said he has ten children, none of whom are enrolled in school. Rudaw said that, in addition to Faisal’s family, at least ten have recently returned to the area.
“We have returned from the camps. There is nothing here, the government told us to leave the camps,” Ghazi Faisal said, echoing Ahmed’s claim that federal Iraqi authorities encouraged the refugees to abandon the camps.
“We, the people of Baaj, have been displaced. We have returned, but there is nothing,” Saad Matir, another recent returnee to the area, told the news agency. Baaj is a small town and district in Nineveh province.
The Washington Post reported this month:
Iraq’s Displacement Ministry said in late October that it was moving ahead with [refugee camp] closures as part of a program of “safe and voluntary return.” Aid groups and human rights researchers say that in practice, civilians are often ordered to leave their displacement camp on short notice and without clarity on whether it will be possible to return to the areas they came from.
Humanitarian groups have warned that the rapid closure of displacement camps in northern Syria could leave more than 100,000 refugees homeless.
Many refugees who fled northern Iraq after the Islamic State invaded the area in 2014 are still reluctant to return home today, according to Rudaw. Some note that most homes destroyed during the invasion have yet to be reconstructed. Others point out that the area still lacks basic services overall, including electricity and water. In addition, regional violence continues to plague northern Iraq.
Some who voluntarily left the displacement camps have been forced to return to them after realizing they lacked the basic infrastructure in their home villages to rebuild their lives.
“Around 25 percent of the displaced people from Nineveh’s Baaj district fled to Mosul’s al-Salamiya and Jaddah displacement camps [in northern Iraq],” Rudaw reported on Thursday. “According to Baaj administration numbers, 30 percent of the district’s houses have been left in ruins.”
Syria’s Al Hol refugee camp is located less than 100 miles from Nineveh province, along Syria’s northeastern border with Iraq. Refugees returning to northern Iraq from Al Hol camp “often pay smugglers to escort them across the border to avoid being detained by the Iraqi army or ISIS [Islamic State] in the rugged area,” the news agency revealed.