Iraqi children 'forced to live among corpses and bombs' after camp closures
The IDP camp closures come as part of a plan to relocate around a quarter of a million people back to their areas of origin.
But many of those areas are ill-prepared to resettle families who fled the extremist Islamic State group, Save the Children said on Friday.
More than 300 families were recently forced out of the Yahyawa camp in Kirkuk and have since returned to Mosul, Eiyadiah and Tal Afar in the Nineveh governerate in northern Iraq.
Almost all of the governorate was captured by IS in mid-2014 and witnessed some of the extremist group's worst atrocities, before it was recaptured by Iraqi forces in 2017.
"This area was the last shelter for ISIS in Nineveh, so most of our houses were destroyed during the conflict. Our children are not safe here," a man identified only as Ali told Save the Children after returning to Mosul.
"When we came back here, the area wasn't cleared; there were explosives," the father-of-four explained.
"I brought down a non-exploded bomb from the rooftop of my house. Children were holding bullets but didn't know what they were. My son came to me with a non-exploded grenade in his hand. He said, 'Father, what is this?' People also found a corpse in one of the destroyed houses."
Families like Ali's are now facing a harsh winter with inadequate shelter and little protection against the cold or the Covid-19 pandemic, Save the Children said.
"I wish we didn't come back here, because our houses were destroyed. It's too cold and there are no adequate services like drinking water, electricity or cleaning," said Shahad, a volunteer for the charity.
"Children and their families are in desperate need of fuel and heating to keep them warm during the cold winter," she added.
Save the Children has called on the international community to work with the Iraqi government to build a long-term plan for the closure of the camps to help protect vulnerable children and families.
"This is a desperate situation for thousands of children in the middle of a pandemic, made worse by the looming start of winter. This is why we are calling on the government to provide alternative shelter for families who do not wish to return to their areas of origin," the charity's Iraq director, Ishtiaq Mannan, said in a statement.
Iraqis forced out of closed IDP camps also face abuse and stigmatisation over their perceived links to IS, Amnesty International said earlier this week.
Thousands have been denied documentation essential for employment, education and free movement over their own or their relatives' alleged former allegiances to the extremist group, the global human rights group said.
Security forces at civil status directorates routinely harass and intimidate the IDPs, Amnesty said in a new report, leaving camps in which they live the only option for safe shelter, all of which are set to be closed by Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi's government by March 2021.
"Iraq's authorities must guarantee that no one is punished for the crimes of others; that all Iraqis can obtain civil documentation; and that the whereabouts of those disappeared is revealed", said Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty's Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa.
Based on research carried out between 2018 and 2020, including at IDP camps, the rights organisation has documented the cases of 67 individuals arrested for suspected ties to IS and subject to enforced disappearance.
Tarnished with association, those acquitted of affiliation to the group live in fear that Iraq's state and para-state authorities, include the Iran-backed Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMU), could rearrest them or subject them to torture on their return to their homes.
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