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Displaced women dig in their heels

A displaced women prepares food for her children at IDP camp in Baghdad in 2008
More than half Iraq's 29 million citizens receive government food aid (file photo) (Sabah Arar/UNICEF)

Displaced Iraqi women are reluctant to return home, despite relatively improved security in the country and the tough conditions in camps, because of continuing uncertainties, says an NGO advocating for displaced people.

“Iraqi women will resist returning home, even if conditions improve in Iraq, if there is no focus on securing their rights as women and assuring their personal security and their families’ well-being,” the Washington-based Refugees International (RI) stated in a field report released on 15 July.

The RI report covered internally displaced women in Iraq’s semi-autonomous northern Kurdish region and female refugees in Syria and concluded: “Not one woman interviewed by RI indicated her intention to return.”

According to the report, some women said they would not return because they belonged to targeted minority groups, or because of injuries. Many widows told RI they feared returning to homes where their husbands had been killed, and where they now had no means of economic survival. Some feared rising conservatism would restrict their ability to participate in civic and professional life.

“This tent is more comfortable than a palace in Baghdad; my family is safe here,” a displaced woman in northern Iraq told RI.

A 2 July report by Elizabeth Ferris, co-director of the Brookings Institution-University of Bern Project on Internal Displacement on the prospects of mass returns of Iraqis, said more than four million people are estimated to have been displaced, including approximately 2.8 million internally in 2008 and the balance living as refugees mainly in neighbouring countries.

''This tent is more comfortable than a palace in Baghdad; my family is safe here.''

Guarantees needed

Yanar Mohammed, head of the Baghdad-based Organization of Women’s Freedom NGO, said real protection guarantees from the government were needed to persuade displaced women to return home.

“There are still no real guarantees offered to these women to protect their rights and their children alike,” Mohammed told IRIN. “In these conditions, it is impossible that these women will return to the death and humiliation they have left behind.”

She said militant groups that were largely responsible for anti-female violence “are only in dormancy and are hiding behind different political forms because of the forthcoming [30 January] national elections”.

Meanwhile, Ferris said the experience of return was often different for men and women as well as for young people and their elders. However, “most refugees and especially IDPs return spontaneously - without international assistance - when they judge that the situation back home is secure enough or when conditions in exile become unbearable”.

Ferris also said returns to areas where individuals would be in a minority were much slower than to places where they would be part of a majority.


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

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