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Iraq and the international community must boost protection of the internally displaced as crisis deepens – UN expert

GENEVA (19 May 2015) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons, Chaloka Beyani, today urged the Government of Iraq to step-up its efforts and give a higher priority to nearly three million internally displaced persons (IDPs). He also called on the international community not to turn its back on the situation in light of a significant shortfall in humanitarian funding.

“Despite some positive steps by the Government, its approach to the displacement crisis has been largely ad hoc to-date. It must intensify its efforts and devote greater resources, planning and attention to the needs of IDPs,” Mr. Beyani said after his first official visit* to Iraq (9-15 May).

The human rights expert warned that the prospect of new waves of displacement requires a level of preparedness and urgent response that has been absent so far. “Disturbing ongoing developments, including the fall of Ramadi to ISIS, and possible Government offensives to regain lost cities including Mosul, will certainly result in massive new displacement,” he said. “Measures must be taken to ensure protection and that needs, including shelter and humanitarian assistance, are prepared for a potentially deteriorating and nation-wide IDP crisis in Iraq.”

“Despite the challenges in the short, medium and long-term, it is imperative that the international community recognizes its responsibilities and remains a consistent and reliable humanitarian partner,” the UN expert stressed. “Agencies are stretched thin and unable to address all urgent needs. They can only work with the resources that they have and those are grossly inadequate at the present time.”

Mr. Beyani highlighted that those internally displaced in Iraq number close to 3 million and growing. “IDPs from all ethnic and religious communities are surviving in precarious conditions, often under the threat of violence and further displacement and with inadequate shelter, healthcare, food and water”, he stated. “The situation of hundreds of thousands of IDPs living in areas controlled by ISIS is unclear and deeply worrying.”

“Access to humanitarian assistance for many IDPs is poor and must improve. This means ensuring access to humanitarian actors,” Mr. Beyani said. “Many IDPs have also lost documents and face bureaucratic barriers to receiving assistance. One family told aid workers ‘we could not save our daughter, how could we save our documents?’”

The expert visited IDPs living in cramped, substandard conditions in collective shelters and unfinished buildings. However most live with host families putting a heavy burden on them that must also be recognized and addressed. As their resources dwindle, IDPs in rented accommodation may face eviction.

The Special Rapporteur noted that a one-off cash payment to families of 700 USD (1 million Iraqi Dinar), “while welcome, is insufficient even to cover basic needs including shelter, food, and essential items for more than a few weeks.”

“The approaching stifling summer temperatures require measures to create adequate living conditions and prevent illness and the spread of disease as temperatures soar. The wellbeing of the elderly, persons with disability, pregnant women and other highly vulnerable persons must be a highest priority,” he said.

Many IDPs face suspicion and are barred entry to some safe locations on security grounds, due to their identity or place of origin, potentially putting them at risk. At least 100 families previously had to return from Baghdad to Ramadi where their homes had been damaged when ISIS still controlled much of the city. Now that the city has reportedly fallen, the Government must allow the newly displaced from Ramadi to freely enter Baghdad and other safe places. The Babylon Governorate has refused to admit displaced men between 15 and 50, causing family separation as only women and children are allowed entry.

Mr. Beyani expressed concern at the arrest and detention of IDPs, including with regard to due process, conditions and duration of detention and access by family members.

“While legitimate security concerns exist, including that ISIS may infiltrate IDP communities, the overwhelming majority of IDPs are innocent victims of the conflict and must be treated as such on protection and humanitarian grounds,” the Special Rapporteur concluded.

The Special Rapporteur will produce a full report and recommendations to be presented to the UN Human Rights Council.

(*) Check the Special Rapporteur’s full end-of-mission statement: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=15979&LangID=E

Chaloka Beyani, professor of international law at the London School of Economics, was appointed Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons by the Human Rights Council in September 2010. Learn more, visit: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/IDPersons/Pages/IDPersonsIndex.aspx

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

Check the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/IDPersons/Pages/Standards.aspx

UN Human Rights, country page – Iraq: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/MENARegion/Pages/IQIndex.aspx

For further information and media inquiries, please contact Graham Fox (+41 22 917 9640 / gfox@ohchr.org) or write to idp@ohchr.org

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)

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Check the Universal Human Rights Index: http://uhri.ohchr.org/en