Have the Yazidis Been Forgotten by the International Community?
Nearly one year ago, global media and public opinion raged over the humanitarian crisis and near genocide facing the Yazidi population of northern Iraq at the hands of the Islamic State.
At that time, major western media outlets reported on the massacres inflicted on the Yazidis by IS, the enslavement and rape of young Yazidi women and girls, and other atrocities the Yazidi minority have faced.
However, since August 2014, the airstrikes against IS have gradually slowed down to a complete halt, and humanitarian aid has also slowed down. With IS fighters still roaming the land, has the international community forgotten about the distressed Yazidi people?
In a phone interview last week, Tazpit News Agency spoke with Mirza Ismail, a Yazidi leader and head of the Yazidi Human Rights Organization International. Ismail gave a first-hand account on the current situation and plight of the Yazidis still in Northern Iraq and the Sinjar region.
“It is an ongoing very bad humanitarian crisis, the fate of the Yazidi nation” Mr. Ismail related to Tazpit, live from Iraq.
“Right now I am in Northern Iraq, I visited Mount Sinjar earlier and came back down. Overall I made visits to Yazidi refugee camps such as Khanke, Sharyia, and Esia to see the current situation with my own eyes.”
“In general, our organization tries to maintain the awareness of the ongoing humanitarian crisis and plight of the Yazidi nation and its refugees, with media, countries, politicians, appealing for practical aid and help,” Ismail explained to Tazpit.
“Right now the Yazidi Human Rights Organization International is working on trying to relocate refugees, who are currently in camps in Turkey, to Canada. So far, Germany has taken 80 Yazidi girls and granted them asylum; they agreed to take a total of 1,000 Yazidis. We hope that other western countries can take a lesson from Germany and agree to provide asylum and take in Yazidi refugees.”
According to a United Nations Human Rights report, the IS campaign against the Yazidis resulted in more than 50,000 refugees and several thousand killed between July and September 2014. Having fled up into the Sinjar Mountains, thousands of Yazidis found themselves stranded and besieged by IS forces. This imminent threat of a genocidal massacre was only averted by U.S. airstrikes and air drops of humanitarian aid packages.
Ismail told Tazpit that there are still 12,000 Yazidis held up on Mount Sinjar, most of them children and the elderly. Many of the children are orphans of Yazidi fighters and those who were massacred by the Islamic State. “They are living in very bad humanitarian conditions,” noted Ismail.
“There is no medical assistance here and people are suffering from disease. They are afraid to come down from the mountain. They are afraid of Islamic State, afraid to be killed like their family and friends and they don’t trust the Iraqi soldiers and Iraqi government,” he said.
Ismail explained the Yazidi source of general distrust, saying, “Iraq persecuted and discriminated Yazidis as well, Iraq let the genocide of the Yazidis happen, they abandoned the Yazidis to be slaughtered.”
“There are still violent acts and killings of Yazidis; just two weeks ago a young Yazidi man was found tied and mutilated to death, another disappeared from Eisa camp and was found dead later.”
According to Mr. Ismail, overall, there are 430,000 Yazidis, most of them living in refugee camps in northern Iraq and Turkey in unbearable living conditions.
“With summer coming again, life will certainly get even more difficult than it is now. The hot weather conditions in northern Iraq can be severe, and there isn’t even a single fan to keep people cool.”
Ismail paints a grim picture of the current condition of the refugees in northern Iraqi camps, and an ever greater plight for those who are still held up at the disconnected Mount Sinjar.
“In the northern camps, they [Yazidi refugees] have not had relief and aid in the last 2 or 3 months,” said Ismail.
“There is some United Nations presence; I have seen UNICEF around; I heard that Doctors Without Borders is maybe active. However, not a single organization has sent any aid up to Mount Sinjar. It is mainly the children who are suffering the most, they have no education, no teachers are coming, they suffer from malnutrition, having less than two meals a day.”
Ismail recounted to Tazpit a general feeling of hopelessness and fear both on Mount Sinjar and in the refugee camps. There are reports still coming out about Yazidis being raped, murdered, and sold into slavery, as recently as May, when IS itself claimed to have slaughtered 300 Yazidis near Mosul.
Those who managed to flee the massacres are still threatened with severe weather conditions, disease, and starvation.
“There are people in need of surgery, I met with at least 10 different Yazidis who need to have lifesaving surgery but have no access to doctors. I met a young girl who was still waiting for a needed surgery she told me ‘if I die then I die.’ The people are losing any hope. They need international aid to survive the summer here,” Ismail said.
Adding a Jewish angle to the story, Ismail told Tazpit, “In Canada, I am working closely with Mrs. Rananah Goldhar [a Jewish pro-Israel activist based in Toronto] who is trying her hardest to raise awareness and activism on behalf of the Yazidis to save them from the recent horrific atrocities facing them.”
“My organization is working to influence the Canadian government to take in refugees for asylum, at least for those Yazidis with some relatives in Canada.”