The fight to find the missing Yazidis
After more than four and a half years as prisoners of the Islamic terror group Islamic State, 21 Iraqi Yazidis, most of them children, were recently reunited with their families in the Kurdistan region of Iraq. Only a small number of Yazidis have been able to escape from Baghouz, the final holdout of IS.
Of the more than 6,000 members of the religious minority that IS kidnapped in Iraq in 2014, intending to turn the women into sex slaves and the boys into fighters, some 3,000 women, children and men are still missing. And while the exact number of Yazidis who have got out of Baghouz is not known, it is no more than a few dozen.
One of them is Suaad Daoud, 21, who last month left the Syrian enclave with the IS family she served and has since been reunited with surviving relatives in a Yazidi camp in Kurdistan. Talking in a quiet restaurant near the Iraqi Kurdish border city of Zakho, though distracted at times, she appears to have survived the atrocities she was subjected to relatively well.
She knows that many Yazidi women and children are still with IS families since fleeing Baghouz but not coming forward. "They are scared," she says. When leaving the village, she disobeyed her captors and gave her real Yazidi name to the Syrian Kurdish forces of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) who received them. "They told us we would be killed if we did," she says.
Yazidi women remain in Baghouz
While recounting the lack of food in Baghouz, which has been under siege by the SDF and coalition forces for weeks, she states that there are still Yazidi women with the IS fighters who remain in the city. "To cook for them and some are married," she says, implying in the language of shame used by most returnees that the women are also kept for sex.
Her opinion is echoed by Yazidi activist Mirza Dinnayi, an advocate for the Yazidi cause in Europe. "IS always takes Yazidis to the front lines," he says on the phone from a European city, mentioning reports about negotiations with IS intended to secure their release before the final battle. "But how can you trust them to do as they say?"
His doubts have proven to be well-founded, as reports surfaced of IS beheading 50 Yazidi women, followed by videos of female corpses discovered in newly liberated parts of Baghouz. Dinnayi was told by trusted sources with ties within the terror group that the executions were ordered by IS leaders, who wanted to ensure the woman would not pass on essential information if they were liberated. The killings also sent a clear message: "You kill our people, so we kill those you want to liberate." During the siege of Baghouz, children have died of hunger and air raids on IS positions have also killed civilians.