Iraq shuts last ‘safe haven’ camps for vulnerable families

Habbaniyah Tourist Camp, Iraq, Nov 13 (AFP/APP):Shredded tarp flutters from the metal frames of what were once thousands of tent homes. After five years hosting displaced Iraqis, the vast camp was emptied in under 48 hours.

The Habbaniyah Tourist Camp, a former luxury resort used to house Iraqis fleeing the Islamic State group, closed this week as part of a sudden government push to shutter dozens of displacement camps by the end of the year.

Iraqi authorities say the campaign will ensure people finally go back home — but non-governmental groups and the displaced themselves fear the hasty returns will expose families to danger.

Three years after Iraq declared IS defeated by a gruelling military campaign, nearly 1.3 million people remain displaced, one-fifth of them in camps.

Rapid camp closures could leave 100,000 Iraqis in limbo, just ahead of winter and amid the coronavirus pandemic, warned the Norwegian Refugee Council aid group.

The migration ministry’s top Anbar province official, Mustafa Serhan, told AFP that authorities had coordinated with the military and tribes to ensure HTC’s residents could return home safely.

“There is no speedy or forced return for these families,” he insisted. “Anbar’s camps are five, six or seven years old. What’s fast about that?”

But Iraqis leaving HTC this week contradicted this.

One of them, who gave his name as Ali, told AFP he would be forced to rent an apartment in his hometown of Qaim because his house was destroyed years ago.

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