By Michael Zeff
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 as they advanced on the Sinjar region.
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 had faced last summer.
However, since August 2014, the airstrikes against IS have gradually slowed down to a complete halt and the humanitarian aid has slowed down too. With IS fighters still roaming the land and the fighting in Iraq still very much a daily reality, has the international community forgotten about the distressed Yazidi people?
In a phone interview last week on Tuesday, May 26, Tazpit News Agency spoke with Mr. Mirza Ismail, a Yazidi leader and head of the Yezidi Human Rights Organization – International. Ismail gave a first-hand account on the current situation and plight of the Yezidis still in Northern Iraq and the Sinajr region.
“It is an ongoing very bad humanitarian crisis, the fate of the Yezidi 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 Yezidi refugee camps such as Khanke, Sharyia and Esia to see the current situation with my own eyes.”
“In general our organization tries maintain the awareness to the ongoing humanitarian crisis and plight of the Yezidi nation and its refugees, with media, countries, politicians, appealing for practical aid and help.” Ismail explained to Tazpit.
“Right now the Yezidi 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 Yezidi girls and granted them asylum, they agreed to take a total of 1,000 Yezidis. We hope that other western countries can take a lesson from Germany and agree to provide asylum and take in Yezidi refugees. ”
According to a United Nations Human Rights report, the IS campaign against the Yazidis resulted in over 50,000 refugees and several thousand killed between July and September 2014. Having fled up into the Sinjar Mountain, thousands of Yezidis 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 onto mount Sinjar.
Ismail told Tazpit that there are still 12,000 Yezidis held up on Mount Sinjar, most of them children and the elderly. Many of the children are orphans of Yezidi fighters and those 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 continued to explain the Yazidi source of general distrust saying “Iraq persecuted and discriminated Yezidis as well, Iraq let the genocide of the Yezidis happen, they abandoned the Yezidis to be slaughtered.”
“There are still violent acts and killings of Yezidis, just two weeks ago a young Yezidi 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, 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 bigger plight to those who are still held up at the disconnected mount Sinjar.
“In the northern camps, they [Yezidi 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 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 the refugee camps. There are reports still coming out about Yezidis being raped, murdered and sold into slavery, as recently as May when IS itself claimed to have slaughtered 300 Yezidis 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 Yezidis who need to have lifesaving surgery but 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, stressing the need in activity from the International community, with providing practical humanitarian aid to Sinjar region and granting asylum to refugees.
Adding a Jewish angle to the story, Ismail told Tazpit “In Canada, I am working closely with Mrs. Rananah Goldhar [a strong Jewish pro-Israel activist based in Toronto] who is trying her hardest in to raise awareness and activism on behalf of the Yezidis 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 Yezidis with some relatives in Canada.”
With thousands held up on mount Sinjar, detached from humanitarian relief. Tens of thousands more in the accessible refugee camps only receiving limited relief if any, according to Ismail. And the still-present threat by IS. It seems, according Ismail’s eye witness account to Tazpit news Agency, that the Yezidi humanitarian crisis is far from over.