Six Years After Yazidi Genocide, Investment in Services is Crucial for Returning Yazidi Families
Nearly six years after the Yazidi genocide, up to 200,000 Yazidis are still displaced, many living in camps only hours away from their homeland of Sinjar, in Iraq's Ninewa Governorate. Despite previous low levels of return, June 2020 saw a marked increase in the return of displaced families to Sinjar.
According to a recent assessment conducted by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Iraq, 8,581 individuals (1,657 families) returned to Sinjar between 8 June and 10 July. This is a significant increase over previous years - in May and June of 2019, IOM recorded only 1,512 individuals returning to Sinjar and Baaj. The majority of returnees (83%) have come from Duhok Governorate while the rest returned from elsewhere in Ninewa (17%) or from Erbil (<1%).
Reasons for return vary: some individuals have cited the improved security situation in the region, clearance of mines or other Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), and rehabilitation of public infrastructure in some districts as incentives. Community leaders, local CSOs and NGOs, and other returnees have also been encouraging IDPs to return home.
Another driving force behind the increased number of returns is the global spread of COVID-19. The pandemic has made those living in IDP camps more vulnerable to exposure due to difficulties maintaining recommended social distancing practices and a lack of access to proper water, sanitation, and healthcare.
Movement restrictions in place to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 have also led to the separation of families whose head of household has travelled to Ninewa for employment while other members of the household have remained behind in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI). Rather than face additional months of separation, some families are making the difficult choice to reunite in Sinjar, even if conditions are still challenging.
The sixth anniversary of the Yazidi Genocide is on 3 August. Now, as much as ever, Yazidis need to count on the collective will of both the international community and the national governments in Iraq to restore local governance, improve security, and, ultimately, rebuild their lives with dignity. Investment in Sinjar is investment in the long-term sustainable development of the region and broader peace-building efforts throughout northern Iraq.
Indeed, it is imperative that the international community and the government of Iraq protect those returning and facilitate the rebuilding of the Yazidi ancestral homeland. Support is needed to restore roads, schools, health centres and hospitals, shelters, water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) services, and livelihoods. This is particularly true for south Sinjar, which suffered greater levels of damage and is experiencing a slower recovery, due to access and security concerns.
In addition to rebuilding, there is an urgent need to address the critical issues of local governance and security. Local government offices need to be re-opened and maintained so local residents can receive much needed basic administrative services, while vital civil services such as healthcare, education, and legal courts, need to be maintained.
Nadia's Initiative and IOM Iraq continue to work in the region to restore vital services to all returnees, support reintegration, and offer protection, MHPSS and livelihood support, despite COVID-19 curfews and access challenges.