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Displaced Iraqis return home in mass numbers

By Khalid al-Taie

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Anbar residents who recently returned to their homes after being displaced by the 'Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant', receive air coolers to help them cope with the heat. [Photo courtesy of the Ministry of Migration and Displacement]

There has been a marked increase in the number of families leaving displacement camps and returning home following the string of victories by Iraqi forces over the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL), the Iraqi government says.

Mahmoud Salman, 36, told Diyaruna his family of seven had been displaced from their home in Ramadi's Jamiyah neighbourhood for more than a year.

They returned about a month ago, and he says he now feels comfortable and reassured.

"We were in a dark tunnel and we came out of it," he said. "We turned the page on terrorism and we got rid of the suffering of displacement."

"Now, we only want to live in safety and dignity, and to pull together to rebuild our city and protect it from the terrorists," he added.

According to the Ministry of Migration and Displacement, at least 160,000 displaced families have returned to liberated areas in the provinces of Salaheddine, Diyala, Anbar and Ninawa.

When the displacement crisis began in June 2014, with ISIL's invasion of Mosul, hundreds of thousands of families were forced to flee for safe havens.

By mid-2015, Iraqi forces had reclaimed a number of areas from ISIL and a few thousand displaced families began to return.

Deputy Minister of Migration Jassim al-Attiyah told Diyaruna the number of returnees currently accounted for has reached more than half a million, out of about 3.5 million citizens registered with the government as displaced.

"Returns are concentrated in Salaheddine and Diyala, where military forces were able to liberate large parts of the two provinces and clear mines and explosives, which pose the biggest obstacle to the return of more families," he said.

Restoration of services

After the operations to secure any liberated area are completed and key services are restored, al-Attiyah said, the ministry launches a plan to facilitate procedures for the transfer and registration of returnees and to enroll them into humanitarian support programmes that will help them with rehabilitation.

"The programmes implemented by the ministry, in collaboration with humanitarian organisations, include the provision of relief subsidies and financial support to encourage returnees to resume a normal life," he said.

These also include assistance with home reconstruction and the creation of job opportunities to improve the living conditions of returning residents, he added.

"The growing numbers of citizens returning to their homes of origin undoubtedly reflects the erosion of terrorists' capabilities and the decline of their influence and risk," said Mohamed Rasheed, head of the Anbar Department of Migration.

So far, he told Diyaruna, 51,613 families have returned to liberated cities in Anbar, and "these numbers are increasing steadily, as we record the return of between 400 and 600 families to their homes every day".

Ramadi is leading the way, he added, with the return of nearly 38,000 families.

"The rest of the returning families are distributed among the cities of Heet, Haditha, al-Baghdadi and al-Khalidiya," he said.

On August 10th, the Ministry of Migration and Displacement distributed 3,000 relief packages, including food, clothing, air coolers and other household items, to families returning to Ramadi and al-Khalidiya, Rasheed said.

Accelerated return shows ISIL decline

ISIL has collapsed in Anbar and its end is imminent in the province, Rasheed said.

"We will work at full capacity for the return of all displaced persons to their areas and to restore life to them," he added.

"The return of displaced persons to Diyala province is taking place steadily and at an accelerated pace," Diyala Department of Migration and Displacement director Ibtihal al-Daini told Diyaruna, adding that 42,000 families have returned to their homes in Saadia, al-Muqdadiyah, Jalawla and al-Mansuriyah.

Residents of some towns, such as Sharween, have returned in full, she said, noting that "this is evidence of the decline of the threat of terrorism and the return of security and stability aspects of the liberated areas".

"Our efforts are continuing to serve the returnees and displaced alike," she added. "We will give them what they need in terms of supplies, relief necessities and services for them to run their life affairs."

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