UN Migration Agency Publishes In-depth Investigation of Obstacles to IDP Returns in Iraq
Iraq – Three million Iraqis remain internally displaced across the country, despite numerous successes by military forces in dislodging and reclaiming much of the territory once occupied by ISIL.
As chair of the United Nations Returns Working Group – established last year by the UN coordinator in Iraq – the UN Migration Agency (IOM) commissioned the report Obstacles to Return. Financed by European Union Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO), the IOM study delves into the principal push and pull factors limiting the willingness of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) to return to their place of origin.
Nonetheless, the IOM report also highlights the fact that, through April 2017, an estimated 1.7 million Iraqis displaced across the country have returned to their homes.
According to the Government of Iraq's Ministry of Migration and Displacement (MoMD), some 694,231 people have fled west Mosul since the start of the operations on 19 February. Cumulatively, over 870,000 people have been displaced since the start of the military operations to retake Mosul city.
From 18 October 2016 to 8 June 2017, IOM Iraq’s Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM) has tracked and confirmed the location of more than 626,600 displaced individuals from Mosul. Of these, more than 432,700 individuals (or 72,121 families) are currently still displaced but nearly 194,000 IDPs have returned.
IOM’s DTM surveyed more than 1.7 million Iraqis who opted to return, raising questions as to the factors that motivate, or inhibit, Iraqis from returning to their areas of origin.
The qualitative and quantitative data collection was carried out in eight recently retaken sub-districts through interviews with IDPs. Data retrieved in these surveys show that security in the areas of origin topped all other factors in influencing IDPs’ decision to return or remain displaced.
Proximity to the frontline – and perceived instability in the place of origin – remains the most relevant obstacle for return.
Feelings of trust towards the security actors in control of the areas of origin promotes a higher number of returns, while fear of security actors in the place origin is a strong drawback and reinforces the perceived advantage of staying in displacement.
Fear of reprisal back home is a concern for over 30 per cent of all IDPs interviewed. However, this perception is much lower among interviewed returnees (10 per cent).
The data suggest that damage to housing does not constitute an obstacle to return, although the presence of actors whom IDPs hold responsible for the damage inflicted in a given location is.
Livelihood options and previous or current employment status also play an important role in influencing the decision to return. IDPs who have jobs in the location of displacement are less inclined to return home. By contrast, those who are unemployed appear to be more likely to return to seek new opportunities.
The study shows that almost a quarter of interviewed IDPs who decided to return were prevented from doing so, mostly by delays in processing their documentation, or by being stopped at checkpoints on the way back to their place of origin.
IOM Iraq Chief of Mission Thomas Lothar Weiss said: “IOM Iraq remains committed to supporting the delivery of durable solutions in safety and with dignity. This includes assistance to families returning voluntarily, who may face significant challenges in order to rebuild their homes and livelihoods and regain their standard of living. It also includes families who consider displacement a better alternative and continue to try to rebuild their lives away from their homes and communities while they wait for an opportunity to return. And it includes those who have decided to integrate locally.”
IOM’s DTM actively monitors displacement across Iraq. The latest DTM Emergency Tracking figures on displacement across Iraq are available at: http://iraqdtm.iom.int.
The Obstacle of Return study is available at: