‘We’d go back but we can’t afford to leave this camp’ – Muhammed

Muhammed Hassan Yunis and his family say that they want to return to Mosul in Iraq, but with rents being very high, they currently can’t afford to leave their displacement camp.

Muhammed and his family have been living in the Hammam al-Alil camp for the past three years. They make up some of the over 300,000 Internally Displaced (IPDs) Iraqis from the Western city of Mosul that until two years ago was under the control of Islamic State.

Following a military offensive on the city, the radical Islamic group was pushed out. But two years on, the reconstruction efforts to rebuild homes and infrastructure has been incredibly slow.

According to the Norwegian Refugee Council, there are 138,000 homes which remain destroyed or damaged in the city, over 53,000 of those are within West Mosul.

Muhammed in from of his destroyed house in Mosul
“We lived in a house in Mosul which was bombed, then we moved to my uncle’s house, that house also was bombed. We moved to another house, and then we tried to escape from ISIS area but they knew about it and blocked us. In the end, we managed to escape and come to this camp. We left everything behind. The only thing we took with us were our IDs,” says Muhammed.
“I live in Hammam al-Alil camp near Mosul. Many people are asking why people in the camps are not returning to Mosul. I want to show them how is Mosul and how destroyed is my house. It is not only this, there are many houses destroyed in west Mosul, rent is very expensive, and there is not enough support for people to rebuild their house and infrastructure,” he added.
Photo: Alan Ayoubi /NRC

4% of Mosul residents would go back this year

Muhammed explains that he would go back but it is a combination of affording the ever increasing rent prices and the lack of support to help those wanting to go back.

‘I tried several times to return to Mosul, but the houses available for rent are either without windows and doors and need rehabilitation or complete but with rent above 200$. My situation does not allow me to afford it.’

According to the NGO REACH (Rehabilitation, Education and Community Health), 78% of those displaced from Mosul reported their home having been destroyed or damaged in the conflict. They also report that only 4% of IDPs from Mosul are intent on going back this year.

Can’t go home

Muhammed’s story is part of the Norwegian Refugee Council’s latest report on the lacklustre construction efforts taking place in Mosul Iraq.

Read: Over 300,000 Iraqis still can’t go home to Mosul – NRC

The Norwegian Refugee Council’s Country Director Rishana Haniffa, said that, ‘It’s a disgrace that after two years, thousands of families and children still have to live in displacement camps and in abysmal conditions because their neighborhoods are still in ruins. Some have attempted to return several times but faced a dead end. In spite of the world’s attention two years ago, Mosul’s displaced population has all but been forgotten.’

A man riding his bicycle in Mosul old city
Photo: Alan Ayoubi/NRC

Read: Around 45,000 Iraqi children aren’t recognised citizens – report

In the meantime, the NRC has called for the government to do more to ensure that registration for identification papers and documentation were sped up to ensure that displaced people and families were ensured their basic human rights.

We could only take our IDs

In an effort to escape from ISIS, Muhammed explains that he and his family initially lived in a bombed out house before moving to a relative’s home, before it was also bombed.

Eventually the family managed to make to the camp, leaving behind everything except for their IDs.

‘Life in the camp is better, for someone who used to live in a rented house here is better, because the tent is free, the electricity is free and so is the food.’

‘We want NGOs and the international community to keep supporting Iraq because the situation is still very bad, especially the areas affected by ISIS,’ Muhammed added.

Muhammed and his family in Hamam al-Alil camp
Muhammed has been living in the camp for three years after fleeing Mosul. “I want to return to Mosul but the cost of the rent is very high without any regulation from the governorate. In addition, finding a job in Mosul is very hard as there are very little job opportunities. Living there is too hard when you don’t have a house, a job and you have to pay the rent and electricity,” he says.
Photo: Alan Ayoubi /NRC

Photos and Footage: Norwegian Refugee Council