Iraqis too scared to go back home

LONDON – Hundreds of Iraqi families forced to flee last year’s fighting in Mosul are being prevented from returning home by their communities because they had a relative who joined Islamic State, an aid worker said on Tuesday.

Communities are also barring some families from accessing aid for the same reason, said Omar Ali, Iraq country director of British charity Human Appeal.

Others have had “ISIS family” daubed on their old homes, jeopardising their safety, he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on the sidelines of the Bond international development conference in London.

“There’s a real social cohesion challenge for the future,” said the British aid worker who set up Human Appeal’s operations in Iraq 14 months ago as fighting raged in Mosul.

Hundreds of thousands of people are still living in camps around Mosul after fleeing Iraq’s second largest city at the bloody end of the militants’ rule.

Islamic State, also known as ISIS, seized about a third of the country in 2014. Iraq declared victory in December.

Mr Ali said thousands of people had been ostracised by their communities even though they never supported the militants.

“You have a family of 50, with just one man who joined ISIS, but the whole family, despite reporting that individual, is now stigmatised – and they are scared to return,” he said.

Me Ali warned there was also potential for land and property disputes as families return home because so few people have papers to prove ownership.

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