As Families in Iraq Rebuild Their Lives, IOM Rehabilitates Their Homes
Anbar — When fighting intensified between Iraqi security forces and ISIL in 2014, Hamid Anaad, 62, was presented with an impossible choice: stay and risk living his life as a retired military officer under ISIL control, or flee to protect himself and his family of 12.
Hamid chose the latter, leaving behind his land in Jerf Al Sakher in Babil Governorate, just south of Baghdad, on which he had three houses, five palm tree orchards and livestock. He and his family fled first to Anbar and then to Sulaymaniyah Governorate. His decision to flee took a heavy emotional toll.
“My three houses were badly damaged and the orchards all burned to the ground. I lost everything that was built by my forefathers as far back as five generations. How can I rebuild all that? Palm trees take decades to grow. I hand-picked and brought those palm trees from the best orchards in Basra in 1981. If I were to put the whole world in one hand, and my palm trees in the other, this explains how I felt about my trees,” said Hamid, a lawyer by training.
In 2017, Hamid’s family was ready to return to their area of origin to rehabilitate their houses and rebuild their lives. But Jerf Al Sakher was still too insecure. Instead, they went to Amriyat Al Fallujah, Anbar, west of Baghdad — closer to home yet still uprooted.
Amriyat Al Fallujah, and the wider Anbar Governorate, has seen large numbers of displaced families return to their homes — many of which need urgent rehabilitation, especially in the remote towns of Al Qaem, Al Rawa and Ana.
Thousands of other families, like Hamid’s, live in critical shelter arrangements outside camps, including unfinished or abandoned buildings. With little to no resources to improve the conditions of these shelters, families are exposed to various hazards and protection risks.
With support from the US Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA), IOM, the UN Migration Agency, is assisting these families in Amriyat Al Fallujah and the wider Anbar Governorate.
“It is encouraging to see that many people are returning to their places of origin as security improves in areas retaken from ISIL, but there is still a lot of work to do. Many returnees struggle to survive in areas of return with damaged homes in dire need of rehabilitation, lack of infrastructure and poor services.
“Moreover, 1.8 million internally displaced persons have not yet had the chance to return. Complete destruction or severe damage to homes are one of the main reasons communities remain displaced,” said Alberto Preato, Head of Preparedness and Response for IOM Iraq.
After damage to homes, insecurity is the second most significant factor inhibiting displaced families from returning home, according to IOM Iraq’s Integrated Location Assessment.
Kadhemiyah, 59, and her family faced multiple displacements due to ongoing insecurity before settling in a rented metal structure in Amriyat Al Fallujah. She fled Jerf Al Sakher in 2014 after she learned her oldest son was killed by a mortar shell during fighting.
As she tried to take the rest of her family out of town, unknown armed men took two of her other sons at gunpoint: Nuhad and Mohammed. Kadhemiyah still managed to flee with the rest of her family to Amriyat Al Fallujah. A fourth son, Ahmed, was later kidnapped by unidentified gunmen.
“I managed to find my kidnapped son and I paid a lot of money in ransom to buy his freedom. But on our way back to Amriyat Al Fallujah we were stopped by unidentified gunmen. He was taken from me again. I still do not know the whereabouts of my three sons. Without a home to live in and without security we can’t go back to Jerf Al Sakher,” Kadhemiyah said.
Before IOM’s visit in early 2018, Kadhemiyah lived in a metal structure for one year, paying 50,000 Iraqi Dinars (approximately USD 40) per month in rent.
“Dust and insects entered freely and the whole structure electrified when it rained because it was made of metal. I was forced to cut off the electricity every time it rained. During summer it would get so hot as the sun directly hit us,” she said.
The IOM shelter team built her a home with three rooms, a kitchen and a bathroom for Kadhemiyah on a plot of land ceded by a host community member.
“This is a nice, clean home to sit in. My eight grandsons can play indoors and sleep comfortably, safe from insects and extreme weather conditions; they are very happy. The most important thing is that I don’t pay rent anymore, and I feel at home,” said Kadhemiyah of her new home.
IOM supported Kadhemiyah and Hamid’s families with shelter upgrades, along with 1,550 other displaced families living outside of camps in Amriyat Al Fallujah.
Hamid’s family also lived in a dilapidated home after going to Amriyat Al Fallujah — an unfinished building without walls, a proper roof or windows.
“When it rained everything inside would get muddy because there were leaks and the floor was made of dirt. I still had to buy the structure from the owners to keep staying there because they wanted to evict me and demolish it. I paid around 1,450,000 Iraqi Dinars (approximately USD 1,200) to keep my home,” said Hamid.
The IOM shelter team built a sandwich panel roof better suited to the weather conditions in Iraq and installed a toilet, doors, windows and a kitchen sink.
In the remote western Anbar towns of Al Qaema, Al Rawa and Ana in western Anbar, many returnee families also need support in order to restore and return to their damaged homes. As one of the first international organizations to access these areas, IOM has assisted 903 returnee families in this area with shelter rehabilitation and upgrades since October 2017.
When Abu Ahmed, 63, returned to Al Qaim in 2018, he found his home partially destroyed by a rocket.
“You could see the interior of three rooms in my house from outside because half the walls had come down with the blast. I did not have the money to fix it. IOM rebuilt the walls and installed new windows and doors. Thanks to this rehabilitation, we can live in our home again,” Abu said.
Most of the displaced families IOM serves say they are ready and willing to return to their places of origin. Returning to war-affected communities, however, will require large-scale rehabilitation of their damaged homes. In the meantime, critical shelters for the displaced need to be upgraded so internally displaced persons feel comfortable and safe in their communities. In coordination with the Government of Iraq and humanitarian partners as well as support from donors, IOM is doing just that.
This article was written by Raber Y. Aziz, Media and Communications Officer for IOM Iraq with contributions from Sarah Ali and Rafal Abdullateef.