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Iraqi security forces returning displaced civilians from refugee camps to unsafe areas

- 1515392691 1 3 - Iraqi security forces returning displaced civilians from refugee camps to unsafe areas


Iraqi security forces are forcibly returning civilians from refugee camps to unsafe areas in the predominantly Sunni Anbar province, exposing them to death from booby-traps or acts of vigilantism, refugees and aid workers say.

Managing more than two million Iraqis displaced by the war against Isis is one of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s most daunting tasks. But critics say he is more interested in winning elections in May than alleviating the suffering of displaced Iraqis and returning them safely home.

Authorities are sending back people against their will, refugees and aid workers say, to ensure that the election takes place on time. People must be in their area of origin to vote and if they do not get home, this could delay the election.

Abadi is riding a wave of popularity after defeating Isis in Iraq and is anxious the election should not be held up.

His strategy is not without its hazards. Abadi risks alienating Sunni voters if displaced Sunnis are seen to be suffering from being sent home to dangerous areas.

Abadi is seeking a second term in which he plans to fight corruption and maintain national unity in the face of Kurdish separatism. He will need all the votes he can muster to face down a challenge from candidates linked to Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias.

Interviews with aid workers and dozens of displaced people at camps in the town of Amriyat al-Falluja, located in the Sunni heartland of Anbar province, 25 miles from Baghdad, as well as with several families who were returned to other areas in the province, reveal that many were forced to go home and several suffered death or injury.

Aid workers said military trucks arrive at camps unannounced and commanders read out lists of people, who have one hour to pack their belongings and go.

The aid workers, who all spoke on condition of anonymity, estimated that between 2,400 and 5,000 people were forcibly returned between 21 November and 2 January.

“These returns are not safe,” said one aid worker. “Even those who don’t openly resist really have no other choice. They cannot really say no to a bunch of people with guns.”

An Iraqi military spokesman said the claim that the military forced displaced civilians to return against their will was an exaggeration.

“Our primary concern is the safety of our citizens, our job is to protect people,” Iraqi Joint Operations Command Spokesman Brigadier General Yahya Rasool told Reuters.

However, “citizens have to go home” now that Isis had been defeated, he said.

Some aid workers said local military commanders told them the orders came from Abadi’s office. The prime minister’s spokesman did not respond to requests for comment.

On 25 November, security forces arrived at a camp in Amriyat al-Falluja and told Saleh Ahmed, 37, and his family to return to their home town of Betaya, his father, Mahdi Ahmed, said.

They refused because contacts at home told them the area was filled with booby-traps left by retreating Isis fighters and their houses had been destroyed.

A local commander assured them the area was safe, saying it was “better to go live in a tent in your home town than live in a tent in the camp”.

Saleh reluctantly took his wife and some of his children and got on the truck. Mahdi Ahmed, 72, remained at the camp with his sick wife, another son, and some of Saleh’s children as their names were not on the list.

“They gave him a tent. He went back to our destroyed house and tried to pitch it in our yard,” Mahdi Ahmed told Reuters at the camp in Amriyat al-Falluja.

An explosive went off. Saleh’s wife was killed instantly and his daughter sustained full body burns. Saleh lost one eye and was seriously injured in the other, according to one of his sons, who witnessed the incident.

The Ahmeds’ case is not unique. Abdallah, 17, told Reuters his family was forced to return to the town of Jweibeh on 26 November.

A week later masked men arrived at the family home at 2 am demanding to speak to the father. When he refused to open the door, they burst in and started shooting. Abdallah’s father suffered leg injuries and his mother lost a finger.

The family do not know what the men wanted.

“It’s not that we don’t want to return but it has to be safe,” said Abdallah, who is now the family breadwinner, working at a shop in the city of Falluja.

For many it is not economically viable to leave the camps, where they can set up barber shops or fruit stands at makeshift markets, making about $50 a month.

That sum would not be possible back home where jobs, basic services, and schools are non-existent.

“I can’t afford to return,” said camp resident Alaa Hussein.

One man whose father suffers from kidney failure said leaving means losing access to the camp’s dialysis machine. His village, 280 miles from the camp, does not have one.

“I will return once there are adequate health services there, but why should I go before then?” said Jassem Ali, 37.

Five camp residents told Reuters separately they were forced to leave but had to turn back because checkpoints manned by Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias were demanding bribes of up to $400 to let people through, a sum none could afford.

They spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal. Reuters was unable to independently verify the claim.

A US diplomat in Baghdad said she had heard reports of forced returns, which the embassy had brought to the attention of the Iraqi government.

She said the government had stressed its commitment to safe and voluntary returns but also said that “there is a real desire to get people home as quickly as possible”.

The United Nations says more than half of displaced Iraqis have already returned. More than 3.2 million people were back home at the end of December, with 2.6 million still displaced, according to the International Organization for Migration.

For Mahdi Ahmed, the government has achieved the reverse of what it intended.

“They are doing this because of the election, but if I go back and see my house destroyed, my money gone, and my life ruined, why would I vote for them?” he asked.

Reuters

Independent

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Middle East

Iraq sentences German woman to death for joining Isis, reports say

- 1516551522 mosul - Iraq sentences German woman to death for joining Isis, reports say


An Iraqi court has sentenced a German woman to death after she ran away to join Isis.

The court in Baghdad convicted the unnamed German woman of “providing logistical support and assistance to the terrorist group to commit crimes” and has ordered her execution.

The spokesman of the Supreme Judicial Council, Abdul-Sattar Bayrkdar, says the woman acknowledged joining Isis after travelling from Germany to Syria and then to Iraq along with her two daughters. Both daughters later married militants. 

She is believed to have been living in the Mannheim region of Germany when she travelled to Syria but is reportedly of Moroccan descent. 

The woman is believed to have been among a number of women in July 2017 who were captured after the Battle of Mosul when Iraqi forces pushed Isis out of Iraq’s second city.

She now faces hanging but can still appeal her sentence, Mr Bayrkdar said.

Iraqi forces have detained a number of foreign women after they drove Isis from its former territory in northern and central Iraq. 

It is estimated that over 27,000 foreign fighters, including 6,000 Europeans, have travelled to Iraq and Syria since the start of the Arab Spring in 2011 but not all of them have joined Isis, according to data published by the Soufran Group.

A Russian Isis fighter was sentenced to death in Iraq last year for joining the hardline group.

Meanwhile one of those in prison awaiting trial is German teenager Linda Wenzel who ran away to Syria when she was just 15 years old. 

Wenzel also faces the death penalty if convicted of aiding Isis. Iraqi authorities say she admitted to working as a sniper during the battle but Wenzel claims she was mostly kept as a domestic servant.

Iraq declared victory last month over Isis, which had seized control of nearly a third of the country in 2014. However, the terror group continues to carry out bombings and other attacks in the country.

Additional reporting by agencies​

Independent

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Middle East

France Calls for Urgent UNSC Meeting Over the Turkish Attack on Afrin

- 6d35699da25d5ed17995fd336cb43987 L - France Calls for Urgent UNSC Meeting Over the Turkish Attack on Afrin


ERBIL — French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian confirmed that his country has called for an urgent United Nations Security Council meeting to discuss the ongoing Turkish military incursion into the Kurdish-held Syrian Canton of Afrin.

“France has requested an urgent meeting of UN Security Council,” Le Drian said on his Twitter account.

He urged those involved in the conflict to stop the fire immediately and open the path for humanitarian aid to reach the affected area.

French foreign minister talked to his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu earlier, following which he said in an official statement that Ankara is urged to restraint and end any action which could further deteriorate the humanitarian situation in Syria.

“France is attentive to the security of Turkey, its territory and borders. Paris calls on the Turkish authorities to exercise restraint in the complicated context of a humanitarian situation in several Syrian regions in view of military activities of Damascus and its allies,” reads the statement.

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Middle East

YPG Repels Turkish Ground Attack Near Afrin

- 483e465d9a269f55d26c3cdda3226147 L - YPG Repels Turkish Ground Attack Near Afrin


ERBIL — The US-backed Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) on Sunday repelled the first Turkish ground offensive on Bulbul district of Afrin Canton.

The Turkish troops, accompanied by heavy arms and tanks, were marching towards the territories of  Balia village when faced fierce resistance from the YPG fighters, said Hawar news agency (ANHA).

Many Turkish artillery and heavy arms are said to have been forced to retreat while there remains some attacking troops, according to the same source.

 

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