Shafaq News/ The specter of impending camp closures in Iraq has heightened concerns among the country's religious minorities, particularly those who were displaced during the ISIS takeover from 2014 to 2017.
According to the Persecution Website (ICC), the crisis forced between 6-7 million Iraqis out of their homes, with hundreds of thousands belonging to religious minorities like Christians and Yazidis. Most of the remaining camp-residing IDPs in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq belong to the Yazidi ethno-religious minority.
"While some of Iraq's Christian population has returned to areas such as the Nineveh Plains, most have stayed in the Kurdistan region or emigrated abroad. Over the past two decades, Iraq's Christian community has seen an alarming 80% reduction due to war, persecution, and a breakdown of trust and order in the nation, which is home to more than 46 million people." The Website stated.
Christians comprise less than 1% of the Iraqi population, less than 200,000.
ICC delved into details, mentioning that among the displaced, an estimated 1.1 million Iraqis remain, with approximately 175,000 residing in camps.
"This figure does not include the 273,000 officially registered Syrian refugees in Iraq, many of whom also live in camps in the Kurdistan region."
A USAID report shows 4.8 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) have returned since 2017. Presently, are 24 camps still operational in Iraq, with 23 located in the northern Kurdistan region.
ICC pointed out the Iraqi government's efforts in this regard, explaining that the government recently declared its intention to close all remaining IDP camps in the country by July 30, 2024, in a bid to end protracted displacement.
"While similar announcements have been made, it is unclear if the government will provide an extension this summer."
"The government has offered assistance stipends and reserved government job positions for those who choose to return. However, many remaining IDPs express hesitation due to the war-devastated conditions in their original home areas, such as west Mosul and Sinjar."
Factors such as inadequate services, limited livelihood opportunities, and a breakdown of trust with other ethnic and religious groups continue to deter them from returning and rebuilding.
In the face of the impending closure of IDP camps in Iraq, the apprehension among religious minorities, particularly the Yazidis, is palpable. The challenges loom large for those passing in a critical moment in the arduous journey of rebuilding lives.