Human Rights Watch (HRW) has said that Iraqi and Kurdistan Regional Government security authorities are unlawfully restricting the freedom of movement of displaced people in camps near Kirkuk.
Despite the lack of hostilities in the area, people are not allowed to leave the camps freely.
Displaced people in the Nazrawa and Laylan camps told Human Rights Watch that they could only leave after obtaining a sponsor, that security forces are taking their identity cards before they can leave the camp, and that they must return the same day. The restrictions have limited residents’ access to medical care, work, and relatives.
International aid workers have told Human Rights Watch that authorities in Kirkuk say the restrictions are necessary for security reasons. The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR), which operates the camps, has asked authorities to remove the restrictions.
“The blanket restrictions on the camps for displaced people are too far reaching and discriminatory,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director. “As thousands more people may be displaced from the Mosul military operation, Iraqi authorities should safeguard people’s rights, not penalize them by restricting their access to medical treatment, work, and family.”
Iraqi and Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) authorities should revoke unlawful restrictions on free movement of internally displaced people, including those displaced as a result of the ongoing fight in Mosul. Restrictions should only be imposed if “provided by law … and necessary to protect national security, public order, public health or morals, or the rights and freedoms of others,” as outlined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Since early 2014, when the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) opened its offensive in Iraq, fighting has displaced over 3 million Iraqis from their homes. In March 2016, KRG forces and forces mobilized by the Iraqi government in Baghdad began military operations aimed at defeating ISIS in Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city and the major remaining ISIS stronghold in Iraq. This offensive has already displaced 62,300 people.
In late November 2015, KRG forces relocated hundreds of civilians who had fled ISIS from an area close to the front line to Nazrawa camp, about 20 kilometers southeast of Kirkuk. The camp currently houses 1,655 Sunni Arab families, 90 percent of them from Kirkuk’s Hawija area, and a small number from Diyala province.
36 Nazrawa residents and a Kirkuk governorate official from Hawija told Human Rights Watch that Asayish, the KRG police, and Iraqi federal police officers working at the camp do not allow residents to leave without a sponsor who is a Kirkuk native. All said security officials, and in a few instances military forces, had either taken their identification cards or required residents to leave the cards at a joint Asayish and federal police-controlled checkpoint near the camp, on the road into Kirkuk, and return the same day.
But traveling without an ID card made it very difficult to go through government checkpoints and, as a result, to leave the camp. Having to return to the camp every night further restricted their movement.
These policies interfered with residents’ ability to access health care, separated them from their relatives, had financial implications, and undermined their ability to find employment.
Forcing residents to obtain a Kirkuk sponsor has kept many residents from leaving the camp. A woman at the camp said that since arriving at the camp her family has not been able to pick up disability checks for her daughter’s husband, who is blind, because they have no friends from Kirkuk who can sponsor them.
Another man said that he wanted to visit his brothers who live in Kirkuk, but had not been able to find a sponsor who was native to Kirkuk.
There were no exceptions, one resident said: “If someone doesn’t know anyone who can sponsor him then he cannot go to Kirkuk, no matter how sick he is.”
In several cases, even when residents said they were able to locate a sponsor, they were blocked from traveling at checkpoints because they did not have their identity documents.
(Source: Human Rights Watch)