My Neighbor is No Longer an IDP!

Dr. Mohammed Alkawak, Liverpool John Moores University


The Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement define internally displaced persons (IDPs) as persons or groups of persons who “[…] have been forced or obliged to flee, or to leave their homes or places of habitual residence, in particular as a result of or in order to avoid the effects of armed conflict, situations of generalized violence, violations of human rights, or natural or human-made disasters, and who have not crossed an internationally recognized border.” Since 2014, Iraq has witnessed both the ascent and the decline of the so-called Islamic State (ISIS). During the conflict with ISIS, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians were either killed or forced to flee their homes. There have been assertions that ISIS has been abusing both the Iraqi civilian population and the Iraqi forces that are fighting against it.

A situation very similar to this one occurred with families and people who had originally come from Tal Afar but were forced to relocate within Nainawa. In the Nineveh Governorate of northwestern Iraq, Tal Afar is a city located 63 kilometers to the west of Mosul, 52 kilometers to the east of Sinjar, and 200 kilometers to the northwest of Kirkuk. The Turkmen are the only people who live in the surrounding area. In response to the advancement of ISIS into Nineveh, a family consisting of twenty people quickly moved from Tal Afar to Kirkuk in order to relocate to a safer location. This blog is reflecting their story and how they had been obliged to resettle in a different geographical zone due to ISIS attack.

Their Story

Even in the beginning, it was difficult for them to locate a suitable residence. The family mentioned, as I interviewed them in person, that “[…] the majority of people were terrified to rent out their homes to families who had fled areas that had been attacked by ISIS.” Because of this, it was difficult for them to find a place to live. They initially settled in an area at the outskirts of Kirkuk, but later made the decision to move closer to the city center, where they would have access to better educational and medical resources. They are currently residing in the same neighborhood as I am, right next door. They were a family of five when they moved from Tal Afar to Kirkuk, but they welcomed a new child into the world exactly one year after making the move, so there are now a total of six people in their household. There is a father and a mother, as well as two brothers and two sisters. The children are carrying on with their education, all of them in primary schools, and the father has already secured a job as a teacher in a local institution of secondary school learning. They are making a concerted effort to get to know their neighbors and other people in the area, and as a result, they now have friends and family that they can visit. As a consequence of this, they considered making Kirkuk their permanent home in order to escape from the conflict, and to be in a location that is less dangerous despite the fact that the government of Iraq has declared a victory over ISIS.

Guiding Principles amid National Efforts

The United Nations Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement concerning return, resettlement and reintegration of the IDP, outline IDPs’ rights. Principle 28 specifically states that ‘’[…] competent authorities have the primary duty and responsibility to establish conditions, as well as provide the means, which allow internally displaced persons to return voluntarily, in safety and with dignity, to their homes or places of habitual residence, or to resettle voluntarily in another part of the country.‘’ Furthermore, the responsible authorities shall “endeavor to facilitate the reintegration of returned or resettled internally displaced persons.” Additionally,  efforts should be set in place in order to ensure the full participation of internally displaced persons in the planning and management of their return or resettlement and reintegration. The family that I had the opportunity to speak with (my neighbors), were given authorization to make the city of Kirkuk their permanent home. During the course of my conversation with the family, the mother shared with me that she “had found a higher quality of life in the city as well as a more promising future for her children.”

According to Principle 29, “[…] internally displaced persons who have returned to their homes or places of habitual residence or who have resettled in another part of the country shall not be discriminated against as a result of their having been displaced […] they shall have the right to participate fully and equally in public affairs at all levels and have equal access to public services.” The displaced family’s children are now enrolled in public schools, and they are interacting positively with their neighbors and other people in the community. As a result, they have a network of friends in the area, and they are able to fully participate in life in the new community. Because their father is working hard as a school teacher, the family’s financial situation has improved significantly in recent years. They just got their first car and are making plans to purchase a home in the near future.

Iraq continues to work on overcoming massive social, economic, and infrastructure-related challenges; however, it is making headway in important areas such as resettling its displaced population to their cities of origin. During the post ISIS-conflict period, over 4.9 million people have gradually returned to their home areas. According to the IOM’s Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM), as of February 2021, 1.18 million people remain displaced in camps and informal displacement sites, out-of-camp settlements, and host communities, and face protracted displacement. IDPs in Iraq face obstacles to a safe and permanent return, including physical hurdles, social cohesion issues, access to services, and security concerns. Most of these displaced people are women and children who make up the vast majority of people who are displaced inside their own country. As a result, they are more vulnerable to having their fundamental rights violated. IDPs are more likely than refugees to stay close to or get “stuck” in zones of war. They are in danger of being exploited as pawns, targets, or human shields by the belligerents since they are caught in the crossfire and in the middle of the fighting. IDPs are inherently susceptible to deprivation, additional displacement, and other protection risks as a result of the fact that they have been forcibly displaced. This is because of the nature of their displacement. These protection risks include not having access to basic services, separating families, experiencing sexual and gender-based violence, being trafficked, experiencing discrimination and harassment, and not having adequate housing.

The United Nations Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement have the goal of ensuring that IDPs, who are citizens or habitual residents of their country, are afforded the same rights and freedoms under international and national law as other people in their country. This is to be accomplished by ensuring that IDPs are not discriminated against and that they are afforded these rights and freedoms equally. IDPs are subject to a distinct set of risks and have very particular requirements. This includes the liberty to move about and the option to select one’s own location as the place they will reside permanently. Along these lines, and based on the Guiding Principles, IDPs have the right to seek refuge in another portion of their own country at any time; they have the right to seek asylum; and they have the right to be protected against being forcibly returned to or resettled in “[…] any place where their life, safety, liberty, and/or health would be at risk.” They have the right to seek refuge in another portion of their own country; they have the right to seek asylum; and they have the right to be protected against being forcibly returned to (or resettled in).

The condition known as “return and resettlement” of refugees and IDPs is a circumstance in which all people who have been forced from their homes as a result of armed conflict are provided with the choice to either make a voluntary, safe, and dignified return to their homes or to be resettled into new homes and communities. Returnees should be able to pursue property restitution or compensation once they have arrived at their final destinations. Additionally, they should receive robust reintegration and rehabilitation support so that they can build their livelihoods and contribute to the long-term economic and political development of their countries. My neighbor is currently participating in positive action in the city by making a contribution to the education system. The father of the family is employed as a teacher, and the children are putting in a lot of effort to achieve good results in school. These accomplishments will allow the children to contribute more to the city in the future when they begin working. People who have been uprooted from their homes might become valuable human resources for the country that is hosting them if they are provided with the assistance they need. On the other hand, it is possible for return and resettlement to signify a visible end to violent conflict, legitimize the new political system, and bring normalcy back into the lives of those whose lives were disrupted by the fight. A productive, trustworthy, and long-lasting relationship between the state and its citizens will be facilitated by the resolution of rights to nationality, residence, and property.

Since October 2020, the Iraqi government has begun the process of closing down formal camps for displaced people, and as part of this process, approximately 25,000 Iraqis who had been living in camps have been relocated back to their home regions. Many people view going back to their homes as the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. However, for others, the prospect of returning to an environment that is unsafe, devoid of shelter, and devoid of services, turns camp closures into a nightmare. It is essential to keep in mind that the standards that are now being created will almost certainly be attained only in stages. The mother’s last words about their situation were: ‘‘[…] it was difficult for us to live in a camp because my mother-in-law is an elderly woman who would not be able to live in a shelter with limited resources. We are now living with basic coverage of needs, but I would say that we are living better than we did in my house in Tal Afar. In the near future, I hope to secure a better home for my children.”

This argues strongly against arbitrary pronouncements of displacement ending on a given day or as soon as return or resettlement happens, and instead favors advocating for ongoing monitoring of the condition of IDPs after the solution phase starts to get started. Importantly, there remains even less information and analysis available for IDPs than there is for refugees about what happens to them if they return or resettle. It is therefore of the utmost importance to conduct an evaluation of the conditions upon return, resettlement, or local integration by using the benchmarks that are currently being developed. This is necessary in order to verify the longevity of the solutions and to identify areas in which continued support is required to underpin them, particularly in terms of providing protection and reintegration assistance for IDPs.