Every evening, silence reigns in the Khanke refugee camp near the Kurdish city of Dohuk in northern Iraq. Winter has already arrived, bringing with it rain, mud, and cold.
A fire has been lit for warmth, but the flame is potentially dangerous. A Yazidi family is crowded into each tent. The tents afford no protection from the rain, and if any of the structures catch fire, they can turn into death traps. About 60,000 Yazidis live in this camp.
Last summer, they managed to escape from Mount Sinjar, which was taken over by the Islamic State (ISIS) terror group. Every person at the camp knows someone who was either killed or wounded, or is currently missing.
Every refugee has a sister, wife, or daughter who was kidnapped and raped. Some of them have already seen the video footage on YouTube showing the modern slave markets in Syria and Iraq, and the women who have fallen into bondage. According to these video clips and the accounts that are trickling out of Raqqah, the Islamic State “capital” in Syria, and from Mosul, its stronghold in Iraq, the women are sold at auction to the highest bidder.
The jihadists of Islamic State, using passages from the Koran as their justification, regard the Yazidis as idol-worshippers who may be bought and sold like sheep.
The situation is growing worse in regions taken over by Islamic State. Public executions and amputations mandated by Shariah, the Islamic system of religious law, are carried out every day just a few miles from the Turkish border. Children under 10 years old train with live ammunition, and thousands of Yazidi and Kurdish women are enslaved.
Some of the women enslaved by Islamic State have managed to escape, in a number of cases by contacting their families to convey ransom demands from the terror group. The ransom in certain cases is as high as $5,000 for a young woman or teenage girl, and few families are able to raise that sum.
A woman who manages to escape continues to live in fear of the Islamic State terrorists, and in fear of the rapists and murderers in Syria and Iraq. These women have made long journeys on foot to find that they don’t have a home to return to – Mount Sinjar, the place where the Yadizi community lived for thousands of years, is under Islamic State control.
Now the women are living in Erbil, in Dohuk, and in refugee camps set up by the Kurdish government. Dr. Mirza Dinnayi, one of the heads of the Yazidi community and a former adviser to the president of Iraq, is also in Erbil. With help from several German organizations, he is trying to get the women to Germany, where they can receive treatment and rehabilitation.
Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the UN high commissioner for human rights, has expressed shock that the Arab Muslim world is not condemning Islamic State more frequently. One letter, signed by 126 Islamic clerics two months ago, described the actions of Islamic State as a violation of Islamic law. But these efforts seem to have barely made a ripple in the Arab world.
Islamic State merely does openly what others do in secret. Black jeeps with license plates from the Persian Gulf states arrive every day at the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, in which roughly 18,000 Syrian refugees are crowded together. Inside the jeeps are wealthy men from Jordan and the Gulf states who are looking for wives.
Journalist Henrique Cymerman visited the camp as part of a report for Israel’s Channel 2. He spoke with young girls who were about to be forcibly married to these men who soon would grow tired of their new wives and have no hesitation about divorcing them and sending them back to the refugee camp.
The girls who marry these men from the Gulf states are sometimes as young as 13 or 14. Their families receive a sum of money, usually a few hundred dollars, as a dowry.
“I married because of my family’s terrible financial situation,” said Olah, a 13-year-old Syrian bride who married a 60-year-old man from Saudi Arabia.
“The situation in the refugee camps in Syria and Jordan, in Turkey and Lebanon, is unbelievable,” said Ahmed, a Syrian refugee whose family is still in Syria. “The women who live there have already been through the worst…and now, in these camps, their suffering continues.”
Ahmed added, “It’s very sad that the exploitation is being abetted by the Syrians themselves and by other Arabs.”
Cymerman said that Syrian women work as matchmakers in the refugee camps.
“The men order the brides according to specific criteria,” he said.
Such activities take place not only in refugee camps but also in countries like Egypt. In “bride cities” such as El Hammadiya, near Cairo, several motels and lawyers’ offices arrange legal marriages between wealthy men from Gulf states and local girls. According to reports in the Arabic and Egyptian media, marriages of this kind can be arranged for just $80.
A horrific video shared on social media shows members of Islamic State boasting about the slave girls that they had just bought or would soon be buying – and the response of many Internet users in Egypt and Jordan was very supportive.
Dr. Ammar Nakshawani, an Iraqi Muslim lecturer who lives in London, recently gave a speech in which he explained why slavery could not be abolished. Anjem Choudary, a Salafist cleric who also lives in London, said publicly several weeks ago that he would be happy to move to the Islamic caliphate if he received an assurance that he would not be punished in the UK afterward.
When Islamic State’s crimes against humanity are examined in the context of regional reality instead of under a spotlight, it is clear those crimes did not emerge from a vacuum. Unless that nuance is understood, the plague of slavery in the Arab Muslim world will fester.
– Israel Hayom, exclusively via JNS
(Supplemental reporting by Alina Dain Sharon)