Salah Al-Din: Obstacles to Sustainable Returns
As Iraq continues to transition from a post-conflict operating context towards stability and reconstruction, finding durable solutions for internally displaced persons (IDPs) are foremost among the considerations of humanitarian organizations. With approximately 1.2 million IDPs remaining in displacement more than four years after the declared end of military operations against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), humanitarian actors are prioritizing durable solutions, including return to areas of origin, promoting local integration in areas of displacement, or re-settlement elsewhere.
Salah Al-Din is a useful case study of the challenges that remain to finding durable solutions for Iraq's IDPs. The governorate hosts 56,200 IDPs, all of whom live outside of camps; it also hosts 239,000 returnees. Most IDP and returnee families in need of humanitarian assistance are located in Tooz Khurmato, Balad, Samarra, Beygee, Al-Shirqat, and Tikrit. Conditions have improved in Salah Al-Din since 2017; however significant gaps remain in certain districts, especially with regards to services, reconstruction, livelihoods and security.
Many IDPs in Salah Al-Din reside in informal settlements in Tooz Khurmato, Balad and Samarra. Informal settlements throughout Iraq, including in Salah Al-Din, are under-served by humanitarian partners and some are subject to eviction threats from local authorities. However, many IDPs living in informal settlements report that they cannot return to areas of origin due to security concerns, community tensions, or damaged/destroyed housing. Some IDPs and returnees who are willing to return to areas of origin report that they are unable to do so due to missing identity documents and other civil documentation.
Many IDPs who originate from Salah Al-Din live in Ashti and Arbat IDP camps in Sulaymaniyah governorate. There are sporadic returns from both camps to Salah Al-Din, but IDPs generally express their desire to remain in displacement, citing insecurity, lack of shelter and basic services. Some IDPs who have tried to return to certain areas within Balad district have reportedly been blocked by security actors. This issue requires a political resolution that is beyond the scope of humanitarian assistance. Failure to resolve this and other lingering political considerations will contribute to prolonged displacement.
In 2022, 92,000 vulnerable IDPs and returnees are targeted for assistance by 31 humanitarian actors. The United Nations and humanitarian partners are present in most areas of Salah Al-Din and are concentrated in areas where humanitarian needs are the greatest; however, there are persistent access challenges in some districts which impact the provision of assistance.
Durable solutions actors are also present in Salah Al-Din; an Area-Based Coordination (ABC) group has been established, and an action plan has been developed prioritizing WASH infrastructure, the upgrade of electrical networks, the rehabilitation and cash-for-work activities. The majority of these planned activities will need to be undertaken by development and stabilization actors.
In March 2022, the Humanitarian Coordinator conducted a high-level meeting attended by government counterparts, humanitarian, and coordination actors to discuss returns from Arbat and Ashti IDP camps to Salah Al-Din. Participants emphasized the need to focus on social cohesion concerns and the construction of low-cost housing.