Iraq's Karbala votes for return of displaced people

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Authorities in Iraq's Karbala province have voted for the return of all displaced Iraqis whose home areas have been recaptured from the Islamic State group, they announced on Friday.

Millions of people have fled their homes to escape violence in Iraq, but many areas that have been retaken from IS jihadists are still littered with bombs and heavily damaged, making returning difficult.

"The Karbala provincial council voted unanimously on a decision to return all the displaced people who came to Karbala," its chief Nasayif al-Khattabi said in a statement, adding that it applies to those "whose areas were liberated."

The decision was made "to preserve the security situation in Iraq in general and Karbala province specifically," he said.

Mahfudh al-Tamimi, the head of the provincial council's legal committee, said that the process would not be compulsory.

"It will be implemented voluntarily," Tamimi said.

"The decision is an attempt to guarantee the return of the displaced officially and legally without exposing them to danger," he said.

The United Nations refugee agency has warned against premature or forcible returns of displaced Iraqis.

"It is important to ensure conditions are in place for (the) return to take place in safety and to be sustainable," UNHCR said earlier this month.

And "it is important that displaced families can make a choice about when they feel it is safe to return and are not forced into making a decision," it said.

IS overran large areas north and west of Baghdad in 2014, but Iraqi forces have since regained significant ground from the jihadists.

But many areas retaken from IS are still full of bombs left by the jihadists that must be cleared before residents can return -- a time-consuming process that is in its early stages in many places.

And displaced Iraqis may not have a home to return to even if they wanted to due to destruction caused by the fighting to force the jihadists out.

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