Despite the fall of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, no justice appears on the horizon for the Yazidis, who were brutally targeted for mass destruction by the terror group. Over 3,000 members of the faith--which incorporates elements of the three major monotheistic religions--are still missing, with many believed to have been killed by ISIS or still be in captivity. This, as thousands of others who have returned home remain in desperate need of humanitarian aid.
The demise of the Islamic State's so-called caliphate can be traced back to the liberation of Mosul, Iraq, in July 2017, which was followed by the recapture of ISIS's de facto capital of Raqqa, Syria in October. Beneath the ruins memories of the terror group's rapid rise and crimes are buried, along with many Yazidis, whose villages in and around Sinjar--located in Iraqi Kurdistan--were initially besieged in August 2014. Since then, Yazidi men have been serially executed, with women and children sold off to ISIS fighters in slave markets. These horrors perpetrated by the Islamic State were the first to garner widespread media attention and, in turn, become etched into the world's collective consciousness.
Though ISIS has suffered significant setbacks, having lost more than 90 percent of its territory, this has not put an end to Yazidi suffering. "The genocide is ongoing and the situation is just getting worse because of political [instability]," according Ahmed Burjus, Deputy Executive Director of the Yazda human rights organization dedicated to helping the minority group. Referring to the over 3,000 missing Yazidis, he confirmed to The Media Line that some "are still [alive and in the possession] of ISIS in Turkey and other countries." Others have been barbarically slaughtered, as evidenced by the "sixteen mass graves that were just found in Sinjar."
Burjus stressed that there are many obstacles preventing aid organizations from attending to thousands of freed Yazidis. "With the great influx of Yazidi victims, we are asking anti-ISIS organizations and the [Iraqi] government to intervene, but no serious action is being taken." Therefore, Yazda is forced to "work with overseas humanitarian organizations which recognize the cause," with relocation efforts being facilitated by a limited amount of countries such as Canada and Australia.
Notably, Burjus claimed, "not one ISIS militant has been prosecuted" even though the organization's gross rights violations are well documented. In this respect, The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) previously concluded that ISIS' abuse of Yazidis amounted to crimes against humanity. As recently as this past August, The United Nations Assistance for Iraq issued a report, in conjunction with the OHCHR, highlighting the ongoing plight of those Yazidis captured and sexually exploited by the Islamic State.
Azzat Alsaleem, a Yazidi activist, echoed these sentiments, telling The Media Line that while "many Yazidis [are in areas that have been] liberated, some [still] live in homes belonging to the Islamic State and Iraq is not prepared to search for them." She added that "many Sunni families have kept Yazidis as hostages, implanting them with a fear that Iraqi forces will kill them.
"ISIS terrorists and numerous Muslim families from Mosul have taken many Yazidis with them to places like Turkey and Baghdad," Alsaleem elaborated. "Either they make fake IDs or have connections with corrupt officers in the Iraqi government. Family members lack the money in which to reclaim Yazidi hostages as they have lost everything. A few days ago, A Yazidi father was forced to take a loan in order to free his daughters who had been enslaved for over three years."
For his part, U.S. soldier Michael Ledford, who fought against ISIS in Iraqi Kurdistan, was exposed to the hardships endured by the Yazidis and later co-founded The Yazidi Times Facebook group to support their cause. His activism has allowed for multiple missing Yazidis to be located and "help[ed] a few Yazidis flee Iraq to Germany and the U.S." Ledford added that while some 800 Yazidis currently live in Nebraska alone, "he failed to obtain government support." In this respect, he further contended that both private relief groups and public bodies, including the KRG, have "become greedy and money [is] more important than the women and children."
Sufyan Hammo, a Yazidi Public Relations Officer at Yazidi Human Rights Organization International, stressed to The Media Line from Sinjar that there is a "need [for] urgent help." The U.S.-led coalition forces "have not liberated any Yazidi girls," he asserted, while those who have returned "need major psychological treatment, medical injections for those who have been raped as well as abortions. Some Yazidi girls gave birth to one or two children while in ISIS captivity, yet never raised those kids because of the [associated] trauma.
"How do we have a future in Sinjar," he questioned, "how can one Yazidi girl, who was raped more than 100 times in her village, return home and remember what happened?"
Hammo, like many activists, believes the Yazidi community has no future in Iraq unless the international community intervenes to provide the minority group with protections and assistance. Otherwise, he predicted the Yazidi population will continue to dwindle.