5 years on, Yazidis still live with IS massacre and enslavement
Five years after their lives were torn apart by Islamic State militants, the Yazidis of Iraq are still unable to return home or locate hundreds of their women and children kidnapped and enslaved by the extremists.
While the militants have since been defeated, Iraqi politicians continue to bicker over who is to administer the Yazidi hometowns, which lie in ruins and remain under threat of renewed attacks
The militants destroyed villages and religious sites, lined men up and shot them before kidnapping thousands of women and children and trading them in modern day chattel slavery. The United Nations called the attacks genocide.
Between fear and annihilation: Yazidi refugees in Iraq
Thousands of Yazidis were trapped on Mount Sinjar after being forced to flee their homes by Islamic State terrorist militias. Many have fled to Syria; others have remained in Iraq. The US has provided food and water, although Washington no longer sees the need for a rescue mission. Their situation is desperate.
In search of protection: thousands of members of the Yazidi minority have fled an onslaught by the brutal fighters of the Islamic State (IS) terrorist militias. Those who managed to find shelter in a refugee camp in northern Iraq can count themselves lucky. Supplying refugees on Mount Sinjar with food and water is an extremely difficult task. Demands for more assistance from the West are increasing.
Mass exodus: the Yazidis have been almost completely driven out of the areas controlled by the IS jihadists, often with brutal force. Thousands fled to Syria, although some have since returned to Iraq, like here in Fishkhabour on the Iraqi-Syrian border.
Robbed, humiliated and traumatised: all too often, IS militiamen have robbed refugees of their money, valuables and passports. Many have nothing left but the clothes they are wearing. A great number of children have been traumatised by what they have experienced, and at least 500 Yazidis have been killed in the conflict.
Lack of basic necessities: tumult ensued as bottles of water were distributed to families of Yazidi refugees in northern Iraq. The provision of supplies to the refugees in the autonomous Kurdish regions is a massive logistical challenge.
The Red Crescent in action: members of the Kurdish Red Crescent are helping refugees near Mount Sinjar. Many refugees have been injured or are weak from the long journey, which many of them undertook on foot.
The conditions awaiting the Yazidi refugees in northern Iraq are in some cases appalling. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), a total of one million people all over Iraq have now fled their homes, including Yazidis and many Christians.
A little comfort in a frightening situation: the UN refugee agency UNHCR has set up provisional refugee camps across northern Iraq, including one near the city of Erbil. The refugees are pleased to have at least some fabric walls to call their own and happy to have been able to save a few personal belongings from their homes.
Supplies by helicopter: the US Air Force has been delivering food and water to the Yazidis on Mount Sinjar. The refugees urgently rely on these deliveries as they are otherwise completely cut off from the outside world. Pictured here: US soldiers prepare pallets of water for a humanitarian air drop
A crowd of refugees waited as an Iraqi helicopter came into land on 13 August. A planned large-scale rescue operation by the US army in the region was called off because the Pentagon concluded that there were considerably fewer refugees there than originally feared.
Hunger, thirst and fear for their lives: the UN estimates that some 1,000 people are still stranded on the mountain range. They are suffering from the heat and from a lack of water. There are also unconfirmed reports that IS jihadists have kidnapped around 100 Yazidi women and children from Mount Sinjar.
Women, children and the injured first: aid workers are trying to fly out the injured and the very weak, as well as women and children. Recently, a helicopter crashed during a rescue operation because it was carrying too many passengers.
Criticism of the West for its inaction: across Europe, members of the Yazidi community – including those pictured here in Hanover – are demonstrating for more support from the West. They are calling for more humanitarian aid and for weapons for the Kurds of northern Iraq to help them stop the advance of IS jihadists.
"This is not a memory. We are still living this genocide until today, in all its details," said Yazidi lawmaker Saib Khider. "Our wounds are still open."
IS militants transported Yazidi women and children into Syria and destroyed Yazidi sites. During the final battle to drive IS out of the last territory it controlled, in a small corner in Syria last March, dozens of Yazidis emerged among the survivors in that IS enclave.
Since the militants were chased out of Yazidi areas in 2015, little has been done to heal the wounds or secure the minority group against a possible resurgence.
Hundreds remain missing and dozens of mass graves, over 70, have not yet be exhumed. Many children who were raised under IS and indoctrinated in jihadist ideology are believed to be still living in camps in Syria.
More than 400,000 Yazidis are living in displacement, while control and administration of the Sinjar region remains disputed between Iraqi politicians.
Only days before the conference, two Yazidi men were kidnapped and killed by suspected IS militants in northeastern Sinjar - a traumatic reminder that the militants can still threaten them.
IS sleeper cells have continued to carry out attacks in different parts of Iraq and the Iraqi military and security agencies recently launched operations to weed out the remaining militants.
The war against IS has displaced much of Iraq's population and only some of them have returned to their homes. But Sinjar, in Iraq's northwestern Nineveh province and near the border with Syria, remains largely empty.
"How long can this go on?" survivor Hala Safil, enslaved for three years by IS, told journalists, lamenting the lack of progress on any of the issues that continue to agonise the Yazidis.
She called for the formation of a committee to search for missing Yazidis and appealed on the Iraqi parliament to pass a law that offers compensation and rehabilitation for the survivors. She urged politicians to direct money to the destroyed villages so that people can go home and resume their lives.
"The Yazidi woman has seen a lot: beating, rape, insult, killing, everything. And yet, she is still living in a camp," Safil said. "They think the woman in the camp is free. No. This is moving from one prison to another."
Safil said while the defeat of IS was no small feat, justice is missing. She called for holding the perpetrators accountable for crimes of genocide, enslavement and other crimes against humanity - not just speedy trials on charges of belonging to a terror group.
"Not a single family has been safe from this genocide," Safil told the gathering. Every moment she spent in enslavement "were equal to a thousand deaths."
The U.S.-based Yazda group, which organised the conference, said IS destroyed at least 68 Yazidi religious and heritage sites, calling it another war crime and crime against humanity.
Speaking at the conference, Shia politician Ammar al-Hakim said eliminating IS is not only a security operation but requires addressing reconstruction, social issues and service provision. Ignoring those "could provide the psychological environment for the return of extremism and terrorism," he said.
The extremist group considered the Kurdish-speaking religious minority to be heretics.
Apparently addressing some in the Muslim community who also view Yazidis as apostates, Al-Hakim said the Yazidis are monotheists and targeting them is like targeting all Iraqis.
Al-Hakim also called on Yazidis to have patience and remain home instead of seeking refuge abroad.
"The best Yazidi response to Daesh terrorism is to stick to their land," he said, using the Arabic acronym for IS. "We should be patient and stick together until we get over this crisis... Iraq is our home, all of us." (AP)