Beirut, Mosul – The Iraqi army and other local security forces have forced over 300 displaced families to return to west Mosul neighborhoods still under risk of attack by the Islamic State (also known as ISIS), Human Rights Watch said today. The families, who had fled to the Hammam al-Alil and Hajj Ali camps for displaced people, are severely short of water, food, electricity, and medical assistance.
Displaced residents, camp staff in Hammam al-Alil, and three federal police officers said that families were returned to certain west Mosul neighborhoods to make room for newly displaced people from more recently retaken neighborhoods of west Mosul. But aid workers involved in camp management and United Nations assessments of camp capacity indicated that the camps still have space for new arrivals.
“People from western Mosul fled some of the worst fighting there and finally found safety, only to be forced back to areas still under ISIS fire,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “These families should not be forcibly returned to unsafe areas and areas that lack adequate water, food, electricity, or health facilities.”
The UN Guiding Principles on internal displacement state that all internally displaced people should be able to choose where they live and have the right to be protected against forcible return to any place where their life, safety, liberty, or health would be at risk.
Human Rights Watch visited the Mansour and Wadi Hajjar neighborhoods of west Mosul on May 15, 2017, and spoke with some of the families. Three people from Wadi Hajjar said they had fled the fighting there for camps in Hammam al-Alil, 30 kilometers south of west Mosul, between one and two months ago. They said that at around 1 p.m. on May 9, camp staff came to their tents and said they had to leave because the camp was full, and new arrivals were on the way from other west Mosul neighborhoods that had more recently been retaken. Some families were given up to two hours to leave, while others were ordered to leave immediately, without being able to gather their belongings.
The west Mosul residents who were forcibly returned and spoke to Human Rights Watch said they had not wanted to return because of the lack of adequate food, water, and health facilities.
A staff member at the same camp in Hammam al-Alil said that an army commander called the camp manager on May 9, and said the camp had two hours to round up all the families from Wadi Hajjar, Tal Rumman, and Mansour neighborhoods. The staff started going tent by tent in Section A to deliver the instructions.