Saturday, August 9, 2008

Baghdad Issues Ultimatum To Squatters

Baghdad is moving ahead with the most controversial part of its refugee program, forcing out squatters. On Wednesday, August 6, the central government announced that squatters have one month, from August 1 to August 30, to vacate any houses or government buildings they illegally occupy under Decree Number 83. The authorities also threatened legal action against those that did not leave by saying that they consider squatters parties to the forced removal of any families’ homes they occupy, and that they can be punished for it. As compensation, the government has offered $250 per month for six months for squatters who leave. Maliki’s office has also said that any families that return to their homes can collect $840, petition for damages, and receive help with airplane tickets. It is believed that there are up to 3,000 homes that squatters refuse to vacate from.

This is not the first time the government has tried to move against squatters. Earlier this year officials made similar announcements, which led to such strong protests that parliament suspended any evictions in June 2008. As a sign of Iraq’s dysfunctional government, squatters were still told to leave across the country despite parliament’s action. On July 16 for example, squatters in Baghdad’s Al Jamia and Al Adel districts were told they had three days to vacate their premises.

The move by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to remove squatters and return displaced families poses large questions. Iraqis, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, the International Crisis Group, and the head of Parliament’s Migration and Displacement committee have all complained that Baghdad lacks adequate planning, funding and expertise to handle such a large task. In order to get the money the government has promised, citizens must go through a slow and arduous bureaucracy and even then they may not get their compensation. The money offered also may not be adequate. Another problem, is that the government has no real plans to integrate families that want to return to their neighborhoods, many of which have been ethnically cleansed and are now controlled by a single armed sect, such as Dora in Baghdad discussed earlier. So far, the International Organization for Migration found that only 3 in 100 Iraqis have returned to their original homes. There is no guarantee that squatters will be able to find a new home as well, so they could become displaced all over again if they are forced out. Still, the government hopes that 60,000-100,000 families will return by the end of 2008. This could prove to be little more than wishful thinking.

SOURCES

Adas, Basil, “More than 11,000 displaced families return to Baghdad,” Gulf News, 8/4/08

Alsumaria, “Iraq gives 3 day deadline to evacuate displaced houses,” 7/16/08

Associated Press, “Iraq encourages displaced people to return home,” 8/6/08

Fadel, Leila, “Squatters in Iraqi buildings fear they’ll soon be on the street,” McClatchy Newspapers, 8/4/08

International Crisis Group, “Failed Responsibility: Iraqi Refugees In Syria, Jordan and Lebanon,” 7/10/08

IRIN, “Iraq announces incentives to encourage return of IDPs, refugees,” 7/23/08

Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, “Quarterly and Semiannual Report to the United States Congress,” 7/30/08

Voices of Iraq, “Iraqi premier gives one month ultimatum for displaced houses’ occupiers,” 8/6/08
- “Lack of services, financial support make life difficult for returnees,” 7/31/08

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