As Iraq’s displacement problem continues to grow, representatives of local non-governmental organisations (NGOs) on 15 March warned that government plans to build residential compounds for internally displaced persons (IDPs) should neither be sectarian nor permanent.
[Read this report in Arabic]
Basil al-Azawi, head of the Iraqi Commission for Civil Society Enterprises (ICCSE), a coalition of over 1,000 Iraqi NGOs, said that plans by Iraq’s Displacement and Migration Ministry to build compounds for IDPs were “a step in the right direction”, but warned that they should not become permanent solutions.
“There are now more than two million internally displaced persons in the country, with the majority still living in camps. There must be suitable places for them to live with good sanitation, electricity and other services… until they can get back to their normal lives,” al-Azawi told IRIN, adding that tents did not meet the minimum standards required for IDPs.
“But these places [such as compounds] should be temporary and should not end up as sectarian residential areas. The government must not forget that the only solution for their problem is a political one… to achieve reconciliation,” al-Azawi told IRIN.
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On 6 February, Iraq’s displacement ministry announced it was planning to build a number of residential compounds nationwide for IDPs. With 50 buildings per compound, and six apartments per building, each compound is expected to house 300 displaced families.
The exact number of compounds to be built is still not finalised as the displacement ministry is in talks with Iraqi and Arab banks to fund the project.
Although the project is still on the drawing board, on 12 March officials from the displacement ministry laid the cornerstone of a compound in Missan city, about 350km south of Baghdad.
The compound will cost US$5 million and will be built on 20 acres of land.
“This step is clear proof that the government is dealing with the displacement problem but also that it is not solving it as it does not get to the bottom of the problem,” Tawfiq Mu’taz Hassan, a sociology professor at Babil University, said.
“These compounds will entrench what others are promoting: neighbourhoods and areas divided according to sect and then the country’s whole demography will be changed,” he added.
Violence between Iraq’s two major Islamic sects, Sunnis and Shias, has flared since February 2006 when a revered Shia shrine was attacked in Samarra, about 100km north of Baghdad. Sunni extremists were blamed for the attack, the like of which was repeated in early 2007.
Iraq’s displacement ministry says nearly 140,000 families (about 700,000 individuals) have been displaced since the Samarra attack.
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) says there are some 2.2 million IDPs in Iraq. While many were displaced prior to the US-led invasion of 2003, the majority were displaced after – in particular since the Samarra attack.
Iraq has been facing a displacement crisis for nearly 25 years as a result of the 1980-88 Iraq-Iran war, the 1991 first Gulf War and the 2003 US-led invasion of the country.