Widespread destruction of civilian houses, new clashes, and social tensions are stopping two-thirds of displaced families from returning to their homes in Iraq’s north-western town of Sinjar, according to a new report by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC).
Nearly five years on from the large-scale military operation to drive out the Islamic State group (IS), two-thirds of Sinjar’s population – over 193,000 Yezidis, Arabs, and Kurds – remain displaced. Earlier this month, clashes again erupted in the district, forcing over 10,260 people from their homes, many for the second or third time.
Before the most recent displacements, NRC surveyed nearly 1,500 internally displaced people, as well as returnees, to assess how decisions to return to Sinjar are made. 64 per cent said their homes were heavily damaged, while 32 per cent expressed concern that the security situation in Sinjar will prevent them from returning home. 70 per cent of those surveyed said housing shortages and rent increases are the primary cause of social conflict among those who had already returned. Despite this, a staggering 99 per cent of those who applied for government compensation had not received any funding for damaged property.
“Families from Sinjar remain in displacement, with thousands still living in camps,” said James Munn, NRC’s country director in Iraq. “We need durable solutions put in place so Iraqi families can once again start living their lives and plan for a safer future.”
On top of continued escalations between armed groups, the lack of access to housing, land, and property rights poses significant barriers for displaced people, as the lack of habitable housing both inhibits return and puts pressure on social tensions in the heavily-damaged district. Both Arab and Yezidi communities referenced gunfire, detentions, and road closures as common incidents.
“The people of Sinjar want to go back to their homes and rebuild a life after years of tragedy, insecurity, and destruction. But this cannot happen without political and social stability and better access to housing and property rights,” said Munn.
Nofa, a Yezidi grandmother from Sinjar, recounted the recent events that forced her to leave home and seek safety in a camp in the northern Iraqi city of Dohuk.
“Everywhere we heard gunfire, mortars, and bombs. We tried to keep the children calm, but we were even more afraid than they were. We were crying when we fled and couldn’t bring anything with us except our IDs. We will not be able to return to Sinjar unless it becomes secure and protected,” she said.
NRC is urging the Government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government to prioritize the rehabilitation of infrastructure and the restoration of services to allow for safe housing, land, and property, alongside public infrastructure. The organization is also calling on international development donors to invest in strengthening access to housing, land, and property rights to support families in finding long-lasting solutions for a future life in Sinjar.