Iraqi Displacement - The Aftermath of Iraqi Reclamation of Former ISIS Areas
As areas controlled by ISIS are being reclaimed by allied forces in Iraq, the country is struggling to relocate families displaced during the offensive attack. To complicate the relocation of families, there has been an increase in violence against community members affiliated with ISIS.
On October 5, the Iraqi government announced that the town of Hawija and its surrounding areas in central Iraq have been reclaimed. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), more than 33,000 people have been displaced since the launch of the offensive three weeks ago.
Many internally displaced people had to go to emergency sites and camps. One emergency site in Haj Ali has had more than 6,700 people registered in the past two weeks. The site’s Information Management Officer, Ziyad Khalas, said that it’s difficult to provide sufficient service for everyone, because many “are malnourished and need special care from the first moment.”
The coalition-backed operation to defeat ISIS in Mosul displaced more than one million people, and the Iraqi Security Forces continue to distinguish between ISIS affiliates and ISIS victims.
People suspected of having ties to ISIS have been forcibly relocated to sites that are effectively detention camps. Among the displaced, many are women and children, who are subject to verbal abuse and limited food aid, and are denied access to essential services such as healthcare. Although many emergency camps are unable to provide resources to people, these particular camps purposefully deny Iraqis’ basic necessities.
Humanitarian organizations and other actors have little information about the detention camps. Two understandings of the camps have emerged. One understanding, held by many humanitarians, is that the camps serve as a form of collective punishment for people who are supposedly affiliated with ISIS. The other understanding, provided by Iraqi authorities, is that the camps are meant to protect citizens from other civilians who want revenge for deaths and injuries caused by ISIS.
The denial of resources indicates that the first understanding of the camps holds more truth. However, there has been violence against those with affiliations to ISIS. In a village 30 kilometers south of Mosul, people affiliated with ISIS are being evicted by their own community members and face violence from local vigilantes. Um Ali, a 50-year-old woman whose husband was an ISIS supporter, said that “there have been grenade attacks,” which have been used as part of the attacks perpetrated by people with family members killed by ISIS.
Some are concerned that the attacks will continue to fuel violence in the region. Belkis Wille, senior Iraq researcher at Human Rights Watch, explained that “rounding up families and putting them into poorly serviced camps with no schools and tons of children [is] the perfect breeding ground for extremism.”
Many international organizations have been providing the Iraqi government with names of ISIS-affiliated people. In order to curb the cycle of violence, the international community should either condemn the prison-like camps, or work with the Iraqi government to make them more like safe havens from aggressive community members.
Not only is it important to provide internally displaced people with adequate resources, it’s also important to ensure that those who may have ties to ISIS receive fair trials and are still being given resources they need to survive.