Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Baghdad Sets A Deadline For Squatters (Again)

Yesterday, September 2, was the deadline for squatters to leave their residences in Baghdad. A member of the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Refugees appeared to support the plan, telling Agence France Presse that it was a necessary to remove the squatters so that the displaced could return to their homes. The government threatened those squatters that did not leave by the deadline with legal action. It said people who occupy homes could get three years in jail, and those in government buildings could face up to ten years. Many of the squatters are themselves displaced, most coming from the capitol. A study by the Ministry of Displaced and Migration for example, found that of the 91,640 displaced families in Baghdad, 56% were from the capitol. A Ministry spokesman claimed that a tenth of Baghdad’s refugees were now coming back, but an earlier report by them said only 4% had come back by mid-July 2008. In the past, Baghdad has issued similar warnings to squatters, and each time they have failed to follow through.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government has been talking about doing something about the capitol’s squatters since this summer. In June 2008, the government said it would set a date for when squatters had to leave, saying it was an integral part of the Baghdad security plan. A government spokesman said that security forces would remove those that refuse to leave. Protests over the announcement led parliament to suspend the evictions, but to no avail. The next month the government told the squatters of Al Jamia and Al Adel they had three days to leave. Three days later, nothing happened. Later in July, the government announced its new refugee program, which included 1.8 million dinars ($1500) over six months for families to leave homes they were illegally occupying. The plan was quickly criticized by parliament’s displaced and migration committee for not enough aid and preparation. In August, Baghdad again set a deadline for the end of the month for squatters to leave, and threatened legal action against those that didn’t. That date has obviously expired, and now Maliki has set another one for September 2. Whether this one will be adhered to or not is yet to be seen.

The government has wide ranging plans to deal with the country’s refugee problem. Squatters do need a solution, but mass evictions now may not be the way. Many are displaced themselves and will need new housing, something that is not available. The authorities are offering money, but many have complained about the bureaucracy distributing it. They have said few have received the money, the process is too slow, what is given is not enough, that there is corruption and sectarianism, and there is a lack of security for returnees who often find their neighborhoods dominated by a single sect. The U.N. representative’s seeming support for the September eviction notice was surprising, because it was the first time an international organization has agreed with the government’s refugee plans. Previously, aid organizations and parliament’s refugee committee have widely criticized Baghdad’s policies as being inadequate.

SOURCES

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

Alsumaria, “Displaced families return home starting September 2,” 9/1/08
- “Iraq gives 3 day deadline to evacuate displaced houses,” 7/16/08

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

Gulf News, “Baghdad squatters told to leave occupied homes,” 6/23/08

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

Ketz, Sammy, “Iraq to clear out Baghdad squatters,” Agence France Presse, 8/30/08

Missing Links Blog, “Badr Org reports: Government will reverse the sectarian cleansing, by force if necessary, ‘before year-end,’” 6/24/08

Multi-National Force-Iraq, “Operational Update: Rear Adm. Driscoll, Maj. Gen. Atta,” 6/22/08

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

Tavernise, Sabrina, “Fear Keeps Iraqis Out of Their Baghdad Homes,” New York Times, 8/24/08

Voices of Iraq, “The government ignores displaced people – lawmaker,” 8/20/08
- “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

Zavis, Alexandra, “In Iraq, displaced families return to ruins,” Los Angeles Times, 8/28/08

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