First Published: 2017-07-15

Return to Mosul a distant dream for many displaced
Unprecedented destruction in Iraq's second city, unstable security situation will delay return home of hundreds of thousands of people.
Middle East Online

Iraqis queuing behind a fence at the Hasan Sham camp for internally displaced people.

MOSUL - Yassin Najem knows he has to start again from scratch. His home in Mosul has been bombed, and for him and thousands more displaced Iraqis, returning remains a distant dream.

On Monday, the Iraqi authorities announced victory over the jihadists of the Islamic State group.

But the unprecedented destruction in the country's second city and the unstable security situation will delay the return home of hundreds of thousands of people who fled.

"My house has been reduced to dust, and half of the neighbourhood has been destroyed," Najem said at a camp for the displaced.

"If I return home, it will be to live on the street," said the 50-year-old who has been with his three children in the camp east of Mosul for nine months.

Half asleep as he sheltered under canvas, the widowed former electrical repairman tried to fight the overpowering heat.

The tented alleyways of Camp Hasan Sham were deserted apart from a few children in dusty pyjamas who ventured outside as their parents dozed under canvas or plastic sheeting.

Men who did go outside wrapped their heads in wet towelling.

- 'Nothing to go back to' -

Since the Iraqi security forces' offensive on Mosul began in October, more than a million civilians have fled the violence and more than 825,000 have yet to return, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

But as some semblance of calm accompanies the end of major combat in western districts of the city, some people are trying to go home.

UN refugee agency UNHCR has warned that many of the displaced will remain so for months, however.

Melany Markham, a spokeswoman in Iraq for the Norwegian Refugee Council, said that while people who fled Mosul may not want to stay in the camps any longer, "they have nothing to go back to".

"There is no water supply, there is no power supply, there is no food, there are no schools, there are no hospitals, and from the images and what they tell us their homes have been razed to the ground," she said.

Sitting cross-legged under a tarpaulin at the entrance to her tent, Safaa Saadallah was sceptical to hear her 26-year-old son, a former professional handball player, talk of returning home to Mosul.

"To go where?" asked the 69-year-old, a black scarf placed loosely over her hair.

"We have no house, no business and not enough money to pay rent. How can we go home?"

- 'A very long process' -

It is now eight months since she fled the city with her two sons, daughter and two grandchildren.

The home in which she had lived for 30 years was requisitioned by IS and later destroyed in an air strike.

"We just sit here all day and pour water on our heads" to try to cool down, she said.

"Other camps have installed air conditioners in tents, but here we have not had anything."

There were also delays in distributing food aid to the camp's residents, she added.

Arnaud Quemin, interim director of the US NGO Mercy Corps for Iraq, said "a classical pattern of back and forth" awaits those displaced by the battle for Mosul.

"Some people will go back to see if their houses are in good shape or not, if they need to be rebuilt, and once things are set up they will bring their family with them," he said.

"This is going to be a very long process. We are dealing with numbers that are absolutely without comparison to a lot of other crises of the same kind."

At Camp Hasan Sham, at the entrance to one tent, 10-day-old baby Hamad slept fitfully on a cushion in a crate of vegetables.

To protect him from the heat, his parents had covered him with a wet pink towel.

 

US warns Iran over imprisoned Americans

Saudi King sets up new state security agency

Kuwait protests to Lebanon over Hezbollah training

30 extremists in Sinai operations

Foreign food chains hoping for taste of Iran market

Three Palestinians shot dead in Jerusalem

Nearly 360 injured in Turkey by magnitude 6.7 quake

UN says Saudi to blame for deadly Yemen strike on civilians

Police fire tear gas to disperse Morocco protest

Germany reviews arms sales to Turkey

Hezbollah launches Syria border operation

China calls for Gulf crisis talks

Israel bars men under 50 from Jerusalem Old City prayers

Intensifying Jihadist-rebel clashes in Syria's Idlib

Rebel ambush kills 28 regime fighters near Damascus

Turkey slams 'dangerous' Cyprus energy plans

Saudi prince 'arrested over leaked abuse videos'

Israel boosts 'security measures' as Al-Aqsa tensions simmer

Kuwait expels Iranian diplomats over 'terror' cell

Germany vows to overhaul Turkey ties as row escalates

Home cooked meals a relief for fighters in Syria's Raqa

US maintains designation of Iran as top 'state sponsor'

US halting support for Syria rebels

30 civilians dead in anti-IS strikes in Syria

Palestinian civilians urge ICC to speed up probe

Turkey PM opts for stability in light cabinet reshuffle

UN aid flight carrying journalists barred from Yemen

Former IS slaves fight for revenge in Raqa

US, Iran trade tit-for-tat sanctions

20 Yemeni civilians killed in air strike

14 killed in opposition infighting in Syria's Idlib

Morocco sentences 25 to prison over W. Sahara killings

Egypt police kill top militants

Heavy rainfall hits Istanbul causing transport chaos

Palestinians protest Israeli security measures at Al-Aqsa compound

Saudi police question woman who wore miniskirt

Rebels, US-backed Kurds clash in northern Syria

Netanyahu says Hungary is 'standing up for' Israel

Lebanon army to launch operation near Syria border

Morocco delays currency reform amid speculation

Iran parliament vows to fight US 'adventurism'

4 killed in suicide car bomb at Kurdish checkpoint in Syria

Israel opposes Syria truce deal over Iran presence

Egypt to end visas on arrival for Qatari citizens

Erdogan to visit Qatar, Saudi Arabia