May 7th, 2020 – Henriette Johansen – Research Fellow – Kamaran Palani – Research Fellow – Dlawer Ala’Aldeen President of MERI
Ninewa Plains and Western Ninewa: Barriers to Return and Community Resilience.
A Meta-analysis of Existing Studies and Literature
The sustainable return of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Iraq occupies many international donor projects and resources. However, in the context of the Ninewa province, this problem is not straightforward. Both the concept of displacement and expectation of return are complicated by a long history and atrocious waves of violence, including war, genocide, state-discrimination and systematic demographic changes.
Displacement is ingrained in the history of Ninewa and forms part and parcel of community narratives about survival, identity and belonging. In this way, displacement cannot be conceptualized as a linear process or a uniform experience, but rather as a transformative experience conditioned on geographical, gender and identity factors.
This report is a meta-analysis of the vast literature on Ninewa IDPs and the barriers to their return. It covers important analytical and contextual gaps with firsthand research to inform and enhance stakeholder policies. The various sections of this report will delineate the following primary findings:
- The crisis of displacement should be studied through a combination of multiple causes and circumstances, constituting the environment or conditions of diffused long-term insecurity and uncertainty at both the local and national levels.
- An absence of trust in the government (central, regional and local), political institutions and security forces to safeguard Ninewa’s citizens has cascaded into conflictual inter- and intra-community relationships and proliferated opportunistic security actors. This distrust is a fundamental barrier to both return and the building of community resilience.
- The dynamics of displacement and return are happening in a context and cannot be understood in isolation. The movements of IDPs are outcomes of a variety of complex developments, requiring in-depth understanding and contextual analysis, in order to develop effective and long-term policy and programming.
- Before, during and following stages of displacement, women are targeted and made vulnerable in different ways than men. Women’s experiences of displacement are marginalized in both research and literature, which subsequently affects their participation and agency in political and development realms. Highlighting women’s experiences of displacement is essential in order to adopt transformative approaches to safe and sustainable IDP return, promoting gender equality upon INGO exit.
- The recent crisis of displacement has contributed to the increase of social tensions, in particular between Shabaks and Christians, in the districts of Hamdaniya and Tal Keif. The high rate of Shabak returnees and their territorial expansion, empowered by units from the Popular Mobilization Forces in the area, are perceived by Christians as a threat to their future existence in the Ninewa Plain. The fear of demographic change, as well as a strong sense of political marginalization, characterizes the Christian community and contributes to a pervasive sense of uncertainty. This, in turn, influences their decisions to remain in displacement or migrate. Fears of demographic change and the sense of marginalization extends to other minority groups in Ninewa.
- Reconciliation efforts are critical for the return of IDPs to Ninewa. These are mostly led by International Non-Governmental Organizations (INGOs), in the absence of a clear policy and implementation structure of the Iraqi government to pave the road to community cohesion. In order for reconciliation to succeed, it is critical to understand the transformation of violence and its effect on identity politics and female participation, pivotal to sustainable peacekeeping.
The data for this report has been collected during the time period of January through June 2019.
The meta-analysis situates IDP return and stabilization into Ninewa’s history of displacement, which forms the backbone of the remaining analysis. The identified barriers to return are categorized into district, identity and gender specific barriers to return. Within each category, primary barriers to return are identified and discussed.
Several factors are relevant for IDP return (see Table 1). These are often interlinked and should not be understood as mutually exclusive (i.e. IDPs belong to all three barrier categories). The barriers and the solutions to overcome them are identified through quantitative research, literature and qualitative research to fill research gaps. This is carried out by focusing on the following:
- District-specific barriers in Hamdaniya, Mosul, Sheikhan, Sinjar, Tal Keif, and Tal Afar;
- Community specific barriers (Yazidis (Ezidis), Christians and Shabaks); and
- Gender-specific barriers (women).
|BARRIERS TO RETURN AND DISTABILIZING FACTORS|
|DISTRICT||MAIN BARRIERS TO RETURN||MAIN DISTABILIZING FACTORS|
Demographic change and discrimination
|Security concerns and high presence of Popular Mobilization Forces
Compensation and reconstruction needs
INGO lack of coordination with local authorities
Disputed status of the district and competition between Government of Iraq (GoI) and Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG)
Lack of livelihood opportunities and services
Security concerns, including high presence of different armed groups, ongoing IS attacks, and mines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs)
|Reconciliation and coexistence concerns
Large-scale corruption ingrained in local authority
Unclear justice and accountability procedures
Social cohesion between populations in East and West Mosul are affected by stigmatization and revenge acts toward the former
Risk of local political backlash against the increased visibility and influence of military and political groups affiliated with the Shia community.
Marginalization of the majority of the population (women, children and youth) vis-a-vis old tribal structures
|Sheikhan||Demographic change of the district
|Presence of a large number of IDPs
Lack of serious investment into reconstruction efforts
Lack of HLP documentation of IDPs and returnees
|Lack of livelihood opportunities causing unrest
Lack of serious investment into reconciliation and community traumas
Presence of a multitude of security forces, controlling the district’s political and security landscape in a non-inclusive way
The lack of a unified security force or command-and-control may create a vacuum for a renewed IS establishment
|Tal Afar||Lack of livelihood opportunities
Lack of HLP Documentation and reconstruction activities
Lack of safety and security
|For Single Female Headed Households (SFHHs): discrimination and harassment or worse
For youth: limited education or employment opportunities
Internal disputes within the Shia and Sunni Turkmen communities
Presence of various security forces, with the dominant Shia forces supporting only Shia communities
|Tal Keif||Lack of housing, land and property (HLP) documentation
Lack of financial means to return
|Presence of various security factions
Demographic change effects on social cohesion
Community distrust and minority representation
Disputed status of the district
Rise in local, hybrid and sub-state forces (LHSFs) and the high militarization of formerly high-population towns
Economic disenfranchisement in farming due to explosives and lack of water
Lack of compensation and access to drinking water
Heightened pre-existing inter- and intra-community frictions
|SECT AND RELIGION SPECIFIC BARRIERS TO RETURN|
|ETHNO-SECTARIAN COMMUNITY||MAIN BARRIERS TO RETURN|
|Yezidi||Feeling of insecurity in areas of origin
Militarization of Yazidis internal divisions
Lack of political settlement between conflict parties, mainly in Sinjar
Trauma of the crimes committed by IS
Migration of more than 100,000 Yazidis to Europe following the occupation
Absence of justice and reconciliation with Sunni Arab
|Christian||Awaiting improved security and the lack of international protection
Decreasing employment and economic opportunities
Lack of hope in Iraq and strong pull factor abroad
Majority of Christians have already left the country, creating an imbalance between the number those who stayed and those who migrated
Territorial expansion of Shabaks in traditionally Christian areas
|Better job opportunities in areas of displacement
Social tensions with the returnees
|GENDER-SPECIFIC BARRIERS TO RETURN|
|GENDER||MAIN BARRIERS TO RETURN|
|Female||Restriction of movement due to intimidation, assault, harassment, child caring responsibilities and social norms
Protection needs during and following return movements
New opportunities and aspiration since displacement
Unwillingness to return to old oppressive power structures