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Displaced Iraqis leave camps as smoke clears in east Mosul

Hundreds of displaced Iraqis are returning home to eastern Mosul, though the liberated districts still suffer from a lack of security and public services.
Iraqis walk in the street after returning to their homes in Mosul, Iraq, February 3, 2017.  REUTERS/Ahmed Saad - RTX2ZJ35

ERBIL, Iraq — The city of Mosul has not been completely liberated yet and risks still abound in the liberated areas, but the Iraqi Ministry of Displacement and Migration announced Feb. 2 that about 46,000 displaced Iraqis have returned to the city's recently liberated east bank.

Mohammed Jumaili, who was displaced from the district of Aden to the Hassan Sham camp in eastern Mosul, is waiting for approval to return to the house he was forced to flee when the battles erupted between the Iraqi counterterrorism forces and the Islamic State (IS) and led to the liberation of the district Nov. 19.

Jumaili had a vegetable shop in the Nabi Yunus market, located on the east bank of the city, and although the city was occupied by IS on June 10, 2014, and he was harassed by IS militants, he continued to work until the Iraqi forces launched their military operations Oct. 17. He stayed home until the Iraqi forces entered his district and fled for fear of the indiscriminate rocket and mortar shelling launched by IS on the liberated neighborhoods.

Jumaili told Al-Monitor, “Although I heard that IS destroyed my shop before fleeing the east bank, I am adamant to return home because life in the camp is very tough and there are no job opportunities. Our areas have been liberated and security has been restored, so why stay here?”

He added, “The procedures are taking forever. I filled out a form more than 20 days ago and it’s still not my turn.”

According to the Khazir and Hassan Sham camps' administration in eastern Mosul, the displaced people wishing to return to the liberated areas must submit a request to the camp administration, fill a return form, provide their thumbprint and then wait for approval. The administration will then call the Iraqi security forces and government agencies to verify that the region the displaced people want to return to is fully secure. If the region proves to be secure, approval will be issued and buses operated by the Iraqi Ministry of Transport and Communications will drive the displaced people home.

Jumaili is not the only one who got excited to return when the Iraqi forces announced the complete liberation of the east bank of Mosul on Jan. 24.

Mariam Salman, who was displaced from al-Samah district and is waiting to go back, told Al-Monitor, “Our relatives returned to the area a few days ago, and they told us that the situation is okay but most of the houses were looted, so we want to go back to check on our belongings. We want to return as soon as possible to protect our houses from thieves.”

Returnees report that these areas are still suffering from a severe shortage of key services such as electricity, health care, education and drinking water. A great deal of debris has accumulated from the bombings and battles that raged for three consecutive months between the Iraqi forces and IS gunmen.

Karim Younes, a citizen from Mosul who recently returned to the district of al-Bakr in Mosul's east bank, told Al-Monitor, “The situation is very difficult in the liberated areas. Electricity is still cut off, and we are relying on the water we find in wells owned by some houses in the area — and there are shortages of fuel. But no matter the circumstances, living in a house is much better than in a tent.”

A’ed Ismail, who was displaced from the Kokjala district, the first liberated area in eastern Mosul, dreads returning home for fear that the situation will destabilize.

“Our region was liberated as soon as the Mosul liberation operations were launched about four months ago, but I have concerns over the deterioration of the situation and the return of terrorist operations. When it was liberated, our region witnessed three explosions on Dec. 22, so the situation is still precarious, which is why I will stay in the camp,” he told Al-Monitor.

The displaced who return home are entitled to take all the materials and supplies they received while in the camp except for the tents, which the camp administration said must remain in place to receive other displaced families.

The director of the Hassan Sham and Khazir camps, Amin Obaid, told Al-Monitor, “A hundred to 150 displaced families return on a daily basis from the Khazir and Hassan Sham camps to the east bank districts of Mosul, and the number of returnees has thus far amounted to 3,500 families. These families returned to the town of Qayyarah, south of Mosul, and the districts of Kokjala, al-Samah, Sawmar, Gelyuhan and the village of Tob Zawa.”

Obaid denied that the displaced are compelled to return to their areas, saying, “The displaced voluntarily demand to return, so we do not hinder their return process unless their region is still not safe.”

The camp director revealed that a small number of the displaced who chose to return home has ended up returning to the camps due to IS' indiscriminate shelling on the liberated districts and to the lack of services in the liberated areas. The camps are still taking in newcomers from areas that are still under IS control

“We receive between 50 to 80 families a day from the Rashidiyah and Al-Arabi districts. The number of displaced in Hassan Sham and Khazir camps amounts to about 58,000 so far,” Obaid said.

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