Conflict with the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has had profound humanitarian consequences throughout Iraq, leading to displacement of more than 6 million Iraqis at its peak. Many cities were devastated during the military operations, with buildings and houses burned, shops looted, and roads and electrical grids severely damaged. UN-Habitat is leading the urban recovery programme in Iraq through rehabilitation of damaged houses, construction of low-cost houses to accommodate those who lost homes, reconstruction planning of conflict-affected cities, and addressing housing, land and property rights of the displaced persons. UN-Habitat also works closely with the national and local government of Iraq to upgrade informal settlements and promote good governance and decentralization.
UN-Habitat has been active in Iraq since 1996 for more than 20 years. After 2003, UN-Habitat was largely engaged in early recovery efforts, particularly those supporting internally displaced persons (IDPs) through the provision of shelter and reconstruction solutions. Since then, the portfolio of UN-Habitat Iraq has expanded beyond emergency responses to include humanitarian programmes, such as providing IDPs and returnees with dignified shelter and living environment; and developmental programmes that provide technical and capacity development support to the national and local government counterparts through activities such as development of the National Urban Strategy and the National Housing Policy, upgrading informal settlements, and support to decentralization. UN-Habitat is also chairing Housing, Land and Property Rights Sub-Cluster in Iraq under the Protection Cluster.
In Iraq, many displaced families have lost their properties during military operations, or due to acts of destruction by ISIL. A significant number of returnees surveyed in return areas have reported that official property records which once existed had been damaged, discarded, or completely destroyed as a deliberate act of various armed groups, predominantly ISIL. Furthermore, in conflict-affected areas, unlawful seizure and sales by armed opposition groups, secondary occupation, and the systematic looting and destruction of homes and property, are all too common. The HLP rights of minority groups, in particular Christians and Yazidis, have previously been singled out for illegal seizure by ISIL. In Sinjar District, Ninewa Governorate, the Yazidis have not owned property, nor held occupancy rights for decades due to the discriminatory policy of the former regime.
UN-Habitat in Iraq chairs the Housing, Land, and Property (HLP) Sub-cluster in Iraq. As a result of the Sub-cluster’s activities, the awareness of not only government counterparts but also members of the Iraq Humanitarian Country Team, including other UN agencies, donors and NGOs, has been raised on the need to address HLP rights. This has resulted in the incorporation of HLP rights in the key strategic objectives of the annual Humanitarian Response Plans for Iraq. Under the HLP sub-cluster, UN-Habitat has also developed an HLP violations map, which covers infringements that have occurred over the five main governorates of Iraq. This initiative has helped inform returns, plan interventions based on vulnerability, and highlight the need for additional efforts in the area of HLP rights.
UN-Habitat has also implemented a number of projects addressing HLP rights of displaced persons and IDPs, and issued more than 1,500 Occupancy Certificates for Yazidis in Sinjar area, recognizing the housing occupancy rights for the Yazidis for the first time in modern history.