Thousands of Iraqis too scared to go home because of ISIS stigma

Iraq's police turn the ISIS flag upside down after capturing part of a town from the group.

Iraq's police turn the ISIS flag upside down after capturing part of a town from the group.

Syndicated News
Written by Syndicated News

LONDON — Feb. 27, 2018: Hundreds of Iraqi families forced to flee last year’s fighting in Mosul are
being prevented from returning home by their communities because they had a relative who joined Islamic State, an aid worker said today.

Communities are also barring some families from accessing aid for the same reason, said Omar Ali, Iraq country director of British charity Human Appeal.

Others have had “ISIS family” daubed on their old homes, jeopardising their safety, he told the Thomson Reuters
Foundation on the sidelines of the Bond international development conference here.

“There’s a real social cohesion challenge for the future,” said the British aid worker who set up Human Appeal’s operations in Iraq 14 months ago as fighting raged in Mosul.

Hundreds of thousands of people are still living in camps around Mosul after fleeing Iraq’s second largest city at the
bloody end of the militants’ rule.

Islamic State, also known as ISIS, seized nearly a third of the country in 2014. Iraq declared victory in December.

Ali said thousands of people had been ostracised by their communities even though they never supported the militants.

“You have a family of 50, with just one man who joined ISIS, but the whole family, despite reporting that individual, is now stigmatised – and they are scared to return,” he said.

Ali warned that there was also potential for land and property disputes as families return home because so few people have papers to prove ownership.

He said ISIS had confiscated people’s identity papers, creating a massive problem.

“There are huge issues with civilian ID – many people have no birth certificates, marriage certificates or property
ownership certificates,” Ali said.

“This means people can’t access assistance from the government and they can’t go back to their houses because they
can’t prove ownership.”

Ali said the war had left many women as head of their household, but many were illiterate and did not know how to
obtain identity documents to access government help or food aid.

Human Appeal and the United Nations refugee agency have opened centres staffed by lawyers to address such problems.

The war has also left many households headed by children.

“You get eight or nine children being looked after by a 14- or 15-year-old boy or girl who is at the complete mercy of
whoever has taken control of their guardianship,” Ali said.

He said the challenges in Iraq were enormous but aid agencies were working their socks off and the government was supportive.

“Western Mosul is complete and utter devastation, everything is destroyed, everything is rubble,” he added.

“Hospitals are decimated and lack medicines, and many children have been out of school for three years.”

Although the government has promised people compensation to rebuild homes, Ali said it was not coming any time soon.

Despite the militants’ defeat, he said violence continued in the northern city due to ISIS sleeper cells.

Iraq’s allies promised Baghdad $30 billion this month to recover from the war. Baghdad has said it needs $88 billion. — Thomson Reuters Foundation.



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