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Surviving winter after surviving ISIS: A testimony by a Yazidi refugee

Since the beginning of August, an estimated 350,000 Yazidi internally displaced persons (IDP) have been living in villages, towns and various refugee camps in Iraqi Kurdistan, Syria and Turkey. While most of those who found refuge have taken shelter in local school classrooms, construction sites or under bridges, the IDPs who have been placed in refugee camps were housed in tents, some of which were provided by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Last week, as the first rains hit Iraqi Kurdistan, the Yazidi refugee camps quickly became mud traps. Should refugees not be put in caravans, these camps could potentially become the site of the next disaster to befall the Yazidis. Saad al-Avdal offers a first-hand account from Khanik, one of the largest and most densely populated refugee camps in Iraqi Kurdistan.

By Saad al-Avdal (translated by Idan Barir)

In the name of God, the compassionate, the merciful.

I do not know where or how to begin. I simply do not know. Let me start on August 3, 2014, that black and horrific day, when my family, as well as all the Ezidkhan [a general name for all Yezidi people] fell victim to genocide by the gangs of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), to the abduction of women and children and to the ruthless killing of anyone who got in their way. On that day, all of us who escaped their filthy murderous hands, were forced to flee to Mount Sinjar (Shingal) and stay there for a more than a week without the food or water that exceeds the minimum we were able to obtain in order to survive the terrible hunger and thirst.

This was the state of affairs in the particular area on the mountain where I stayed with my family. However, in other parts of the mountain there were people who could not even obtain this bare minimum – a piece of bread and some drinking water. As a result, hundreds, potentially thousands, of children, elderly and sick people died while still on the mountain.

The Yazidi refugee camp, Khanek (photo: Saad al-Avdal)

The Yazidi refugee camp, Khanek (photo: Saad al-Avdal)

So as not to tire you with the horror stories from Mount Sinjar, let me describe the rescue story: on August 9 and 10, a group of fighters from the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) opened a safe corridor to rescue us across the Syrian border. The corridor was located roughly 20 miles north of the mountain, through Syrian territory, back to Iraqi Kurdistan territory. As soon as we got to Iraqi Kurdistan, we all breathed a sigh of relief and had a sense of security. However, soon thereafter, we were all engulfed by a sense of distress as more than 450,000 people were displaced and forced to flee to Iraqi Kurdistan and each of us scattered in different regions of the Kurdish region. Some 15,000 Yazidis remained in Syria and another 50,000 crossed into Turkish soil.

Meanwhile, more than 5,000 dead and more than 7,000 abductees have been reported by families in the various refugee camps. These figures are but a reminder of the magnitude of the calamity that has hit the Yazidis.

The Yazidi refugee camp, Khanek (photo: Saad al-Avdal)

The Yazidi refugee camp, Khanek (photo: Saad al-Avdal)

The refugee camp of Khanik, whose land is muddy and swampy, is now home to more than 700 Yazidi families. True, this is Kurdish territory, but the services provided to refugees are terribly scarce. Last Thursday night, following heavy rains, another disaster befell us when the tents in the camp collapsed and the heavy rain flooded them up to our legs. As a result, several elderly people died in the camp and an ambulance that was called to evacuate them ran over two children, killing them instantly.

Because of the difficult situation, we were forced to flee the camp and to find shelter, once more, in the classrooms of local schools. We therefore find ourselves forced to appeal to governmental organizations, human rights organizations, non-governmental organizations, civil society organizations, UNICEF and all relevant international organizations. We call on them to intervene immediately in this critical situation in order to save the surviving Yazidis, who have already suffered the bloody fate of 74 Firmanat (genocidal campaigns) throughout their history.

The Yazidi refugee camp, Khanek (photo: Saad al-Avdal)

The Yazidi refugee camp, Khanek (photo: Saad al-Avdal)

Every time it starts to rain in our camp, we fear for the lives of our children and our elderly, who are exposed to the bitter cold and the danger of slipping on the muddy ground. We also face the danger of fire, which causes us to refrain from turning on the heating in our tents. If this is the situation in the fall, what will be our fate during the harsh Kurdistan winter, unless international aid organizations supply caravans and winter clothing for the IDPs in the camps?

Our suffering is endless, even if we, the Yazidi people, do all we can to remain steadfast in the face of these calamities.

The author is a Yazidi IDP currently living in the refugee camp of Khanik, near Duhok. Prior to the ISIS invasion of Sinjar in early August, he lived in the village Zorava, north of Mount Sinjar.

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    1. Richard

      If only a handful of Jews hadn’t bought a few houses and moved into them recently, the World might be paying more attention.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Brian

      You want to spin this, as in everything else, as selective attention to Jews, but it’s just not true. I append here an excerpt from private correspondence I sent to my good friend in Israel on August 10, 2014. It’s unexpurgated except for the addressee’s name, and sent to an individual privately so it’s a bit raw but it goes against the notion you peddle that every +972 poster is somehow interested in nothing but Israel and nothing but Jews:

      Dear ______, These crazy ISIS fuckheads who are burying people alive and literally crucifying them and taking females slave, and committing genocide, Obama and NATO and all Europeans should send the whole airforce from every country and kill these barbarian fuckheads. Pull out all the stops. And should arm the Pesh Merga to the teeth. And long ago they should have told this Shiite asshole Maliki to change his act 180 degrees or we’d kill him too. I’m appalled.

      And if you haven’t noticed, Obama is dropping lots of bombs on these guys and a whole lot of other Islamists. And arming Israel to the teeth. Relentlessly. So the absolutely appalling abuse Obama gets from the Israeli right wing is downright offensive.

      Reply to Comment
      • Noe

        Oh, and I thought Richard was pointing out that the USA just led a $5.4 BILLION fundraising round for the “rebuilding of Gaza.” In other words, while the Yazidi get crushed and while millions of refugees from Syria and Iraq languish, the world gives the Palestinians who launched a war on Israel billions.

        The cruel fate of most of the oppressed people on the planet is that they aren’t fighting Jews. Because if they were, they’d be receiving support they can’t even imagine. Sixty six years so far of international support for the Palestinians while with far less support other refugee groups over these decades – including Jews who had to flee Arab lands – have resettled.

        Reply to Comment
        • Brian

          With all due respect that reads as a paranoid worldview.

          Reply to Comment
          • Noe

            I assume you have some evidence to demonstrate that I’m wrong?

            Here, let me help you out a bit. Why don’t you tell us the respective budgets for UNWRA, the UN refugee group responsible only for Palestinian refugees and
            UNHCR, the UN body responsible for all the rest of the refugees in the entire world.

            Go ahead. I’ll make it easier for you by recommending you look at today’s budgets when you have several million Syrian refugees in the mix, as opposed to 5 years ago when there were none.

            Reply to Comment
          • Richard Lightbown

            While I dispute that the ‘Palestinians […] launched a war on Israel’ I would have thought that even a bigot like you (or even your fellow racists like Richard) might just have been able to understand that the shit has been repeatedly bombed out of Gaza by Israel such that those are the sums of money needed to rebuild the territory. However I fully understand that you think that tens of thousands (maybe more) of Gazan citizens should continue to exist in tents in the rubble of their former homes and that the entire population should be deprived of liberty, security, electricity, a reasonable diet, a reasonable medical service, clean water and a safe sewage system (and whatever else they are denied which does not come immediately to my mind).

            While the US and its allies (including my own despicable government) see fit to attack and incapacitate any other nation on earth they choose (but preferably Muslim ones) this inevitably results in failed states, constant warfare, widespread and bitter resentment and hatred against the west, along with hordes of murderous fanatics. And then an uncompassionate bigot like you seizes on this man-made international misery and mayhem to take yet another swipe at the Palestinians for daring to be the victims of Israel’s own programme of systematic state terror and daring to continue to survive on land that the Zionist’s covet for their own.

            Tell me statistician Noe, just how much money does Israel (that country with the healthy economy and the huge gas reserves that benefits from a huge annual American subsidy worth more than half of Gaza’s total rebuilding fund), just how much does it give to the UNHCR refugee fund (whose deficiency bothers you so much)? And just what do you do to help the refugees aside from shedding crocodile tears for them here as another way of getting at your personal, perpetual bête noir?

            Reply to Comment
          • Brian

            Israel is quite grateful for this financial aid for their managing the conflict strategy, and Israel gets billions in special assistance, and Israel gets a pass on so many things. It’s not about Jews.

            Reply to Comment
    3. Joel

      Just so the record is clear, while the Yazidis are victims of ISIS, the Yazidis are not lily white.

      There is a video from last year of a Yazidi clan stoning a teenager to death for dating a non-Yazidi.

      Part and parcel for the region.

      Reply to Comment