Returning IDPs lack decent public services - NGOs

Internally displaced persons (IDPs) returning home lack decent public services and the resources with which to repair their damaged houses, local and international NGOs have said.

“There is an obvious weakness in the government and ministries in terms of meeting the needs of IDPs, especially those who have returned to their places of origin and found deteriorated public services and damaged houses,” Iraqi activist Basil al-Azawi told IRIN.

Al-Azawi, who heads the Baghdad-based Commission for Civil Society Enterprises, an umbrella group of over 1,000 Iraqi NGOs, said: “Some of these families have run out of resources, and found their houses damaged and furniture looted. And they have not been given any government aid.”

He called on the government and international organisations, including UN agencies, to help meet their needs.

Hamid Sultan al-Shuaili, head of the Baghdad-based al-Jawhar NGO which helps IDPs in Baghdad and central provinces, told IRIN poor public services particularly affected returning IDPs or refugees, and that bureaucracy was a problem: "The main problem is the bureaucracy these returnees face when they put in a claim for financial aid… It takes them weeks to get their money if they are lucky.”

More on displacement in Iraq
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 Move to evict squatters from government property
 Budget cuts threaten IDP housing projects
 IDPs enticed to vacate southern camp
 Low oil prices could affect government aid to IDPs
NGOs warn against encouraging large-scale refugee returns  

IOM assessment

In its latest needs assessment for IDPs, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said many lacked shelter, access to health services, water and decent standards of sanitation.

“Many returnees are coming back to find destroyed homes and infrastructure in disrepair. Buildings, pipe and electrical networks, and basic public services such as health care centres are all in need of rehabilitation to meet the needs of returning IDP and refugee families,” said the 16 January report.

The IOM estimates there are 2.8 million IDPs (1.6 million of whom have been displaced since an upsurge of violence in February 2006). A further 2.4 million Iraqis are refugees, mainly in neighbouring countries.

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) puts the Iraqi refugees figure at around 2 million and says “the Government of Iraq (GoI) is encouraging returns through monetary grants, rental subsidies, organized return convoys and restitution of property for the displaced. Through recent Orders 101 and 262, the GoI intends to provide means for property restitution and eviction of squatters, some of whom may become secondarily displaced.”

Personal testimony

Fadhil Khalaf Mahmoud returned to Baghdad on 19 January to assess whether to bring back his family from Amman, whence they fled in 2005.

“My house [in al-Dakhiliya neighbourhood] was damaged. It was raided more than once by Iraqi and US forces who broke down the doors looking for militants,” Mahmoud, 55, told IRIN.

“The neighbourhood has electricity for only about eight hours a day at best, and only one private generator. The owner of the generator was courageous enough to be the first to offer electricity to residents… but he can’t meet the growing demand,” he said.

“I’m now staying at a relative’s house, evaluating the situation, fixing what I can in my house. Then I will decide whether to bring my family back or not,” he said.