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AMSTERDAM – Early yesterday morning, trucks arrived at Laylan displaced people’s camp, in Kirkuk governorate, Iraq, in preparation for moving residents back to their areas of origin. Camp residents have expressed their fears of being returned against their will to staff from Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). MSF, who is providing healthcare in the camp, is deeply concerned about the humanitarian consequences of such rushed camp closures on the already-vulnerable displaced people without offering a safe and sustainable resolution.
Since October 2020, some 25,000 Iraqis living in formal camps for displaced people have been returned to their areas of origin, as the government of Iraq begins the process of camp closures. While for many people returning home is a dream come true, for others the insecurity, lack of shelter and absence of services that await them make camp closures a nightmare.
“Even if they want to close the camp, they should not send us to our home areas now,” one woman told MSF staff. “They need to provide safety for us. Because of many tribal issues and insecurity, many people cannot go back to their villages.”
In some cases, returnees face possible violence and arrest in their areas of origin if they are suspected of affiliation with the Islamic State (IS) group. Stigma in Iraq against anyone suspected of links with the IS group means that some people are extremely fearful for their family’s safety.
“When some of my neighbours went back, they were verbally assaulted and had to hide from local people – they were afraid they would be hurt,” adds the woman.
Early yesterday morning, trucks arrived at Laylan camp, in #Kirkuk, in preparation for moving residents back to their areas of origin.— MSF Iraq (@MSF_Iraq) November 24, 2020
Camp residents have expressed their fears, to @MSF staff who provide healthcare in the camp, of being returned to their areas against their will.
More than 7,000 people currently live in Laylan camp, most of them women and children. The camp was established in 2014 after conflict broke out in several Iraqi towns, including Hawija and Salah Al-Din, forcing many people to flee their homes. Several camp residents told MSF that they have nothing to return to.
“Our house has been destroyed,” said one woman. “We have young children and we don’t know how we’ll manage if we are sent back. The weather is getting colder and colder each day. We have no salary to rent a house to keep safe and warm.”
“Laylan camp is safe for us and we have water and electricity,” said the woman. “If we are sent away, we’ll have no water or electricity. How can we manage without these services in our daily life?”
Many residents also rely on the medical care they are receiving within the camp, while access to healthcare for displaced people outside the camp is limited.
“MSF is treating 300 patients with non-communicable diseases in the camp; they require uninterrupted lifelong treatment and care,” says Gul Badshah, MSF head of mission in Iraq. “With this rapid closure, there is no time for MSF to provide patients with medication to cover a three-month period until they manage to access another health facility and to prepare the medical files they need to enrol in another NCD programme in their area of return without interrupting their treatment.”
The COVID-19 pandemic is another concern for MSF teams.
“Our concern is that patients may have to move out of the camp in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Badshah. “There are eight confirmed COVID-19 cases in the camp’s isolation area. It is not clear how these patients would be transferred and how quickly they would get access to medical care.”
MSF urges the Iraqi authorities to reconsider their decision to imminently close Laylan camp and to ensure that future returns are made in a more transparent, voluntary, safe and dignified manner.
MSF delivers primary and secondary healthcare, services for expectant and new mothers, treatment for chronic diseases, surgery and rehabilitation for war-wounded, mental health support and health education activities in Iraq. We currently work in the governorates of Baghdad, Nineveh and Kirkuk. We have also supported local health facilities in the southern provinces of Najaf and Dhi Qar in recent months with preparedness for mass casualty incidents. In 2019, MSF provided over 45,000 consultations for patients across Iraq for those suffering from chronic diseases, as well as over 34,000 consultations for maternity and reproductive health.
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