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, Iranian top diplomats confront each other for first time

Moscow accuses US of hitting Syrian regime forces

Turkey, Iran and Iraq make joint threat against Kurd vote

Thousands of Huthi supporters mark 3 years since Sanaa takeover

Gemstone purchase essential for Najaf pilgrims

UN sets up probe of IS war crimes in Iraq

Air strikes kill 22 civilians in northwest Syria in 48 hours

Iranian supreme leader lashes out at Trump UN speech

Iraq attacks all remaining IS territory at once

Turkey jails lawyers representing hunger striking teachers

Syrian Kurds to hold first local elections in federal push

Qatari expats lauded as statesmen by Arab critics

Shipwreck off Libyan coast leaves over 100 migrants missing

Will Turkey’s opposition to Kurdish state translate into action?

US ups the ante on Iraq Kurds

Macron: Iran nuclear deal no longer enough

Trump’s mind made up on Iran but refuses to divulge

Scores of Iraqis missing during war against ISIS

Netanyahu rejects calls for mixed gender worship at Western Wall

Russia accuses US of missile treaty breach

Iran TV translator mocked for watering down Trump speech

Saudi Arabia hopes Kurdish referendum will not take place

Saudi invites women to sports stadium for first time

Saudi set to create $2.7 billion investment company

Humanitarian disaster grips Yemen three years since Houthi takeover

What will become of Iraq’s Hawija after ISIS?

Multi-ethnic Kirkuk tense ahead of referendum

UN awaits Iran’s defence against Trump nuclear deal threats

US-backed SDF seizes 90% of Syria's Raqa

Man hanged in Iran for rape, murder of child

Saudi to lift ban on internet phone calls

Sisi calls for peace, co-existence in Mideast

Erdogan demands Iraqi Kurds call off referendum

US looking to revisit Iran nuclear deal

Trump expects Gulf dispute to be resolved quickly

Bashir calls on Darfur displaced to return

Saudi Aramco could release accounts in early 2018

Saudi-led coalition says rebels hindering Yemen food imports

Jihadist activity prompts regime, Russian air strikes in Syria safe zone

Two prominent rights activists arrested in Saudi Arabia

Israel shoots down Hezbollah drone over Golan Heights

Iraqi forces launch assault on IS in western Anbar province

Families of the missing, the forgotten victims of war in Lebanon

25 killed in South Sudan clashes

Suicide attack on Iraq restaurant kills three