Choosing to Return? Prospects for durable solutions in Iraq | Oxfam

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In the aftermath of the rapid advance of Daesh through central parts of Iraq, a humanitarian crisis of significant proportion remains. Since March 2015, over 458,000 people have returned to their places of origin. Many have been driven by government guarantees of improved security coupled with a lack of access to land, food and income generating activities in displacement sites. They have returned under precarious conditions, without the support required to ensure progress towards durable solutions, and they rely on assistance to recover and rebuild. Efforts must be made to ensure that returns are safe, dignified and sustainable. This paper outlines the current situation and provides recommendations for the Government of Iraq, UN agencies, donors and NGOs.
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  OXFAM BRIEFING NOTE 23 DECEMBER 2015 www.oxfam.org  View into a family’s home in Hosseini village, central Iraq, where many have begun to rebuild. Photo: Oriol Andres/Oxfam CHOOSING TO RETURN?  Prospects for durable solutions in Iraq In the aftermath of the rapid advance of Daesh through central parts of Iraq, a humanitarian crisis of significant proportion remains. Since March 2015, over 458,000 people have returned to their places of origin. Many have been driven by government guarantees of improved security coupled with a lack of access to land, food and income generating activities in displacement sites. They have returned under precarious conditions, without the support required to ensure progress towards durable solutions, and they rely on assistance to recover and rebuild. Efforts must be made to ensure that returns are safe, dignified and sustainable.  2 SUMMARY  As of December 2015, over 8.2 million people in Iraq require immediate humanitarian support as a direct consequence of the violence and conflict across central parts of the country. Nearly eight months since the earliest reports of returnees, a humanitarian crisis of significant proportions remains. Whilst more than 458,000 people have returned to their place of srcin 1  in the wake of Daesh control, approximately 3.2 million Iraqis remain displaced inside Iraq, with more expected in 2016. 2  Both groups remain in need of enhanced humanitarian assistance and protection. Recognizing the need to listen to and understand the concerns of those affected by the crisis, Oxfam conducted an intention study 3  to better shape the humanitarian response of various actors. Between August and November 2015, more than 55 interviews and 25 focus group discussions (FGDs) were carried out with returnees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) in 15 communities in the Diyala governorate of Iraq. Oxfam gathered information on immediate humanitarian needs, perceptions of security and prospects for the future. These were supplemented by secondary research and interviews with humanitarian actors. Both women and men were interviewed, as well as security forces and government authorities. The results present a picture of a country still struggling to manage a humanitarian response to ongoing displacement and overcome the effects of the conflict, and one which will require sustained support to achieve durable solutions. 4  This report highlights that: ã  An individual’s perception of security is the primary factor influencing their intention to return, yet government pressure has motivated displaced Iraqis to return irrespective of this. ã  Heightened intercommunity tensions, activities of armed groups and fear of reprisal are not conducive to ensuring returns are sustainable. Social tensions are also contributing to further displacement, with women in particular expressing concerns about community tensions. ã  Beyond security, the second factor influencing people’s willingness to return is accurate information on the conditions of security. This is followed by restoration of basic services and support for reconstruction. The return of civil authorities, availability of humanitarian assistance and reinforcement of security patrols were also mentioned. ã  A small percentage of displaced persons expressed their intention not to return to their place of srcin because of the destruction of their home, insecurity, trauma they endured or land disputes. They had little or no idea of alternatives available to them. ã  Significant humanitarian needs remain in both areas where people are returning and areas holding those displaced. Livelihoods remain severely disrupted with seven out of ten returnees and a majority of IDPs having entirely lost their source of revenue, facing many challenges to recovery. ‘The only thing that we want is safety. Our ancestors lived on bread and dates, we can live so if we live in safety’  A displaced farmer in Ali Khalaf village, 2015.   3 ã  Shelter is also a great need. An estimated 60 percent of both public structures and private properties have been destroyed and others are at risk of collapse in some areas. 5  Serious gaps in provision of education, healthcare and water were all also highlighted in both displacement and return areas. ã  Deciding whether to return is not entirely a free choice, nor is it adequately informed. The absence of choice compels families to follow directives from local authorities despite the lack of assurance of their safety or information about their entitlements and rights. ã  Displaced people and returnees continue to face significant protection threats due to ongoing social tensions, racketeering at checkpoints, restricted access to basic services and continued acts of violence, harassment and intimidation by armed groups. ã  There is no government action with regard to compensation and restitution of property, guarantees of land tenure rights or knowledge of security screening procedures or timelines. People seeking redress lack options as access to justice remains a major challenge. ã  Women noted that it was the men of the household who overwhelmingly maintained decision making power on whether to return and were the first to be granted access to places of srcin. Clear gender roles also reinforced, with men being the ones to seek information from security forces and village mukhtars to communicate with their families. While this study cannot provide a comprehensive picture of all needs in central Iraq, nor represent all views from diverse communities, it is clear that despite improvements in security, the situation in Diyala is still highly precarious and unstable. Consultations with displaced persons and returnees between August and November 2015 reveal that conditions for durable returns are not met. The ultimate responsibility for the protection of displaced people and the promotion of durable solutions rests with the Government of Iraq, although there are vital roles for United Nations (UN) agencies, donors and non-government organization (NGOs) to play in supporting these efforts. Detailed recommendations to these actors are outlined later in this report, but include: 1. The government, with support from the UN, should develop a responsible, sustainable returns policy for displaced Iraqis.   A national legal framework for durable solutions should be developed, which draws on the Government of Iraq’s 2012 Comprehensive Plan to End Displacement. It should promote and protect the rights of displaced persons and ensure that all solutions are voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable. Better profiling of population flows, as well as the provision of more information to displaced persons, will be needed in support of this. This framework must be led by the Government of Iraq and consult all relevant stakeholders. The voices and needs of displaced persons must directly inform this process. Hence, any strategy will need to acknowledge and not exacerbate root causes of conflict, including weak governance, economic inequality and ongoing security concerns. In ‘We cannot be free in the village or move freely in the village. We cannot go outside on the street’  A displaced mother of four in Qara Tapa, 2015.  4 particular, the government must ensure that land issues are addressed and a comprehensive system of restitution and compensation established across all governorates. 2. The international community should promote social cohesion, restore good governance and prevent further conflict. Sustainable returns require a reduction in social tensions, security reform and effective systems of referral and redress. Resolving political disputes in the disputed internal boundaries (DIBs), 6  re-establishing civil authorities and coordinating disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) are all required to achieve this. Active efforts should be undertaken for community-based reconciliation and social cohesion to restore trust within communities and facilitate collective recovery in newly secure areas. These efforts should influence how humanitarian action and subsequent development efforts are carried out across Iraq. 3. The international community should enhance humanitarian assistance and support livelihoods recovery in return areas. Much greater support is needed for both IDPs and returnees, particularly in the disputed territories, toward livelihoods recovery. Vulnerable displaced families are rapidly depleting productive assets in an attempt to meet household needs and are engaging in other corrosive coping strategies, such as reducing meals or borrowing money. Markets have also been affected as productive areas have become battlefields, supply routes have been disrupted and physical infrastructure destroyed. Increased donor funding is required to meet the 2016 UN Iraq Humanitarian Response Plan, in which sustainable returns are a priority. Support must also target communities facing protracted displacement as poor conditions in host communities are a ‘push factor’ for return and a barrier to local integration.
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