“We escaped our village and walked for two days into the mountain with just the little bit of food and water we brought with us,” a Yazidi woman told us. “My cousin, an older woman, died there. When we came down from the mountain nine days later, the PKK brought us here through Syria.”
Two of our team, along with Kurdish human rights workers from two civil society organizations, Wadi and Alind, walked around and talked with residents at two tent camps west of Duhok City and close to the Syrian border, where Yazidi Iraqis had found refuge. They had fled the Sinjar (Shangal) area in the midst of violence from the Iraqi State (IS) (or “Da’ash”) . We had also seen families sleeping along the road under blankets propped up by sticks, in the open sides of buildings under construction, and under overpass bridges.
In tears, a man said, “My wife and four children are now in Da’ash’s (IS’s) hands.”
“My father died on the way here, while we were walking from the mountain,” shared another. “In front of my own eyes, they took my sister and her husband and their four children and others, separated the men out and killed them. Then they assaulted the women. Our women are in prison in Mosul.”
Sitting at the edge of her tent, was a mother with her two-day-old baby. She was pregnant when she traveled to the camp from Sinjar Mountain.
At another tent, a young woman sat alone, head in her hands, weeping. Others told us that she had been raped by IS fighters seven days ago, but managed to escape. Now, deeply traumatized, she stays alone in one of the tents.
One person who had women in their family raped, told us, “We wish we were bombed with chemical bombs rather than going through this shame.”
We heard story after story of horror and pain, until I felt my heart would burst open with grief.
Yet, children played around the camp. People told stories of helping each other. The sons of a 90-year-old man with thick white hair and a face full of creases, shared how they took turns carrying their father here, since he couldn’t walk.
Everyone we spoke to said they didn’t want to return to their homes, because they feared more violence against them because of their religion. “We must leave here, and go to another country,” said a young man. Our people have been killed because of our religion many different times throughout history. I want to go to Europe, the U.S. or Canada.”
They were now safe, but conditions in the camp were very rough. “We have a tent now, but no mattresses to sleep on,” a woman told us. They were sleeping on cardboard on the ground; a few had a blanket they brought with them. There are only two toilets for 200 families in the newer camp. The people have to carry water from a nearby school, and there is no place to bathe. They are given a subsistence-amount of food. More isn’t available yet, because of the huge numbers of people coming in. The people, living in the town near the camp of 200 families, are preparing and bringing them one hot meal a day. They hope that soon the government and aid agencies will be able to provide more for the peoples’ needs.
One of the Kurdish human rights workers, with us, later told us, “‘Da’ash’ (IS) treated these people of Shingal like they were animals, as though they could do whatever they wanted with them. So the people feel dehumanized, helpless, and terrified. The sexual violation of their women left them feeling a lot of shame. What they need now are people to show them that they care, and that their lives are important. I think this visit was a start.”
Peggy Faw Gish is currently working with Christian Peacemaker Teams in Kurdistan Iraq. She has worked in Iraq since 2002. Her recent book is Walking Through Fire: Iraqis’ Struggle for Justice and Reconciliation (Cascade Book, 2013)