Why Refugees Can’t Go Home and What We Can Do About It

“So, why don’t refugees just go home?”

“Isn’t ISIS defeated?”

“Why would they stay in those awful camps?”

After all the stories of people running for their lives and now the good news that fighting in Iraq has stopped, you’d think people would start heading home, right?


So why don’t they go back? Why are people still trying to get into Europe? Why do they still need our help? Can’t they get back to life as usual?

Not quite.

The real story of being a refugee is much more complex. Here’s why.

A destroyed home in central Mosul. Photo by Matthew Willingham/Preemptive Love Coalition.

1. For many, their homes are destroyed.

Whether it was a US airstrike, mortar fire, an Iraqi missile, an ISIS bomb squad, or some other kind of violence, many families lost their homes to this war. The number of damaged homes, businesses, and communities across Iraq is honestly too much to take in.

2. Many communities are still without basic services.

Let’s say you’re one of the lucky ones who has a home that’s still habitable, that wasn’t reduced to rubble. Since so many basic services were sabotaged by ISIS or destroyed in the fight against them, you’re still unlikely to have access to clean water or electricity. And in the blazing Iraqi summer heat, that’s a tough thing to manage, even for those who grew up in this heat.

3. For many, going home just isn’t safe yet.

So you know your home is still standing, relatively habitable, and you’ve got access to at least some basic of services—enough for you to survive, let’s hope. Even if you’ve got all that going for you, many families still won’t risk going home for fear of ISIS raids (which are still happening here, despite the lack of coverage they get), unexploded bombs and traps, reprisal attacks by other militias or ethnic groups… and the list goes on.

Many recently liberated communities are nowhere near safe to return to yet.

A destroyed home in central Mosul. Photo by Matthew Willingham/Preemptive Love Coalition.

So what can we do? In the face of all this overwhelming, soul-sucking, heart-wrenching destruction and pain, what can we actually do?

1. We can stay.

Stick it out. Keep working. Camera crews are gone. Most of the international media is gone. Other charities are leaving, their budgets are drying up, and their interest is turning elsewhere.

We can be the kind of people who stay, even when the rest of the world moves on.

2. We can listen.

Over time, refugee families begin to accept that this is just the way things are. This is their future. This is the new normal.

Camps become the norm. Living in abandoned buildings becomes the norm. Misery becomes the norm. People give up hope.

For their sake, we can refuse to give up hope. This is what our empowerment teams do every day as we work to get people back on their feet, back to work, back to a place of stability.

We refuse to believe people are too far gone. We listen, ask questions, and ultimately spend untold hours urging people to believe in themselves again—because the people of Iraq and Syria are truly spectacular, brilliant, capable people.

They just need someone to believe it with them.

3. We can keep giving.

To all of you who have donated to help rebuild Iraq and Syria: thank you. THANK YOU. The amount of good you’ve made possible is honestly extraordinary, so let’s not stop now! We can do so much more good for people here‚ but we have to press in and stay committed.

If you already give monthly, you are part of the reason we’re able to be not just first in, but last to leave. You’re part of the reason we can stand by our refugee friends long after others have moved on.

And if you haven’t yet, I’d like to invite you to become part of The Frontline, our monthly giving community—and help our displaced friends make the journey home, to a future where they can flourish.

We’re in this together—for their good, for your good, and for our good. We’re with you.