Hundreds of homeless people demonstrated in Baghdad on Monday in protest over being evicted from government buildings and schools they had been squatting in.
They demanded the government take urgent action to find accommodation for their families, particularly in light of the onset of winter.
“We have nowhere to go. We have been occupying such places [public buildings and schools] since the US-invasion in 2003 and now we have been forced out without any government notice or a replacement solution,” said Ahmed Saraui, leader of the squatter’s demonstration.
Three demonstrations have so far taken place in the capital this week, each with more than 500 participants. On Monday, entire families took to the city’s main squares pleading that the housing shortage be urgently resolved.
“I have four children and we were living in an empty government building but now we are in the street with nowhere to go. I am unemployed and cannot pay the ridiculously high rent being asked for in Baghdad,” said Salam Rabia’a, one of the demonstrators.
“Someone should do something about us because we are human beings and we were forced out without the minimum of compassion,” he added.
According to Saraui, nearly 500 families have been made homeless as a result of recent evictions.
“Before they [government officials] forced us out, they could have at least given us a place to stay but they did the opposite. They gave us their backs, warning us that should we try and return we will be imprisoned,” Saraui said.
These families were forced to search for abandoned public buildings after their homes were destroyed during the US-led occupation of Iraq, which began in 2003.
Haydar al-Kindi, a press officer at the Ministry of Construction and Housing, said that the evicted families were illegally occupying government buildings and that they had not applied for government compensation for their lost homes. He also said that the squatters were given notice about six months ago to vacate the government premises but they failed to do so.
“Officials did warn them and at the same time offered them assistance but they said that they would only live in their houses if they were in the same condition as they were when they lived there before,” al-Kindi said.
“According to our investigations, many families were living in suburbs and they still have their houses there but they preferred to squat in government buildings because these were near the city centre,” he added.
NGOs have started to pitch tents in isolated areas of the capital to guarantee the homeless a measure of security.
“We do not know the real reason that makes them live in government buildings or why the government has not offered them an alternative before forcing them out but we cannot abandon these families and we will try to help settle them in temporary tents until the government solves the problem,” said Fatah Ahmed, spokesman for Iraq Aid Association (IAA), a local NGO.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions