ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Although the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) territorially defeated the Islamic State on March 23 in Baghouz, there are still missing Yezidis (Ezidis) who are being rescued from refugee camps in Syria.
On Aug. 24, two women, a young girl and a young man were handed over by the SDF to a Ezidi House in the Cizre region of Syria after they were found in the infamous al-Hol camp. They were recently reunited with their families after returning to Sinjar (Shingal) in northern Iraq.
Al-Hol witnessed an increase in numbers of residents in the spring as Syrian Kurdish-led forces, backed by the US-led coalition, launched an offensive to defeat the so-called Islamic State in its last bastion of Baghouz.
The camp was built to hold 40,000 individuals. However, it currently hosts over 68,823 people displaced persons. Among them are 46,000 Iraqis. The local administration also has limited support available to the camp.
Fear, the disowning of their children, and forced religious conversion are among the main reasons Ezidi women cannot leave al-Hol camp in Syria and return to their hometown of Shingal, according to some of the victims.
Pari Ibrahim, Founder and Executive Director of the Free Ezidi Foundation, told Kurdistan 24 that every time Ezidis are identified and rescued from the Islamic State’s control, it is a small victory. “But there is much to do,” Ibrahim warned.
“The al-Hol camp still surely contains Ezidis who are too frightened to leave ISIS, including young Ezidis who are severely traumatized and brainwashed,” she said.
“Aside from that, there are other Ezidi women that we know have been trafficked to Turkey and elsewhere. Ezidis will probably continue searching for our missing for many years into the future.”
Ibrahim said it is an indictment on the international community and the powers in the Middle East “that our people remain missing and suffering.”
According to Hayrî Demir, editor in chief of EzidiPress, there are still 2,900 Ezidi women and children missing, with most of them suspected of living in al-Hol camp.
“The situation is particularly difficult for children and infants who were abducted five years ago. Identifying them is almost impossible because they do not remember their Ezidi identity or background,” he said.
“Unfortunately, the international community leaves the problem to the destitute Ezidis and overstretched SDF forces,” he added.
According to Demir, a broad DNA study to identify these children would only be possible with international help.
“However, it is unlikely that any of the anti-ISIS coalition states will take pity on the Ezidis and help them with such a mammoth task.”
”As hard and bitter as it is,” he warned, “if there are no more efforts to locate these missing children and women,” hundreds of children will be “missing forever.”
“The Ezidis must face and accept this reality. The efforts of the Ezidis themselves to identify abducted Ezidis in the al-Hol camp are meager and they exhaust themselves in simple, mere questioning,” of the traumatic events he said.
The emergence of the Islamic State and its violent assault on Iraq’s Ezidi-majority city of Shingal in August 2014 led to the displacement of hundreds of thousands of members of the Ezidi community and the killing of scores more, now recognized by the United Nations as an act of genocide.
Most of them fled to the Kurdistan Region while others resettled in neighboring countries or Western states.
Militants subjected women and girls to sexual slavery, kidnapped children, forced religious conversions, executed scores of men, and abused, sold, and trafficked women across areas they controlled in Iraq and Syria.
Editing by Nadia Riva