Hopelessness, continued displacement lead to spike in suicides among Yezidis: KRG

The Kurdistan Region's Sharyia Camp, where where displaced Yezidi (Ezidi) familes now live. (Photo: Kurdistan 24)
The Kurdistan Region's Sharyia Camp, where where displaced Yezidi (Ezidi) familes now live. (Photo: Kurdistan 24)

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – According to 2021 Quarterly Humanitarian Bulletin of the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) representation in the United States published on Tuesday, at least 13 displaced members of the Yezidi (Ezidi) religious minority now living in the autonomous federal region of Iraq have so far committed suicide this year.

Community members, in interviews with Kurdistan 24, warn that this is caused at least in part by a hopelessness resulting from a lack of future prospects. Looming large among the various factors is the continued inability to return to the Ezidi-majority district of Sinjar (Shingal), located in Iraq’s northern Nineveh province, largely destroyed after the Islamic State overran it in 2014.

“The suicides are believed to be linked to the trauma caused by the Yazidi (Ezidi) genocide at the hands of ISIS, the difficult living conditions inside the camps, lack of prospects for the future, and economic and social problems,” the humanitarian bulletin of the KRG said.

On Aug 3, 2014, the Islamic State stormed Shingal, kidnapping and enslaving thousands of Ezidi women and girls and carrying out a genocide against the greater community, most of whom lived in the district but are now classified as internally displaced persons (IDPs).

“Additionally, the Iraqi government’s closure of IDP camps in the areas under its jurisdiction has further exacerbated the lives of thousands of Yazidis in the Sinjar region,” the KRG said.

Ezidi Nobel Peace Prize winner Nadia Murad wrote in an editorial for the Guardian on Wednesday that “a precise picture of Yazidi mental health trends is muddled by a lack of resources for research and a failure to respond to the issue’s root causes.”

The Free Yezidi Foundation (FYF), a non-profit organization focused on the community, also warned in a statement in late January of the growing number of suicides.

“It appears that the COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated an already acute community-wide trauma. There is need for targeted, smart efforts to provide trauma treatment to Yezidis, with a focus on supporting Yezidi-led organizations” the FYF said.

In October 2020, the governments in Baghdad and Erbil announced they had reached an agreement to normalize the security and administrative situation in Shingal (Sinjar) that would allow displaced residents to return. So far, however, not much has changed on the ground since then.

According to data from the International Organization for Migration (IOM), a total of only 46,558 persons returned to Sinjar and the al-Ba’aj district in the Ninewa since June 2020. Moreover, only 1,256 have returned to the area between Jan. 4 and 31 of this year.

A large portion of the Ezidi population, more than 200,000, are still displaced, living in camps, cities, or improvised settlements in the Kurdistan Region.

Mayan Hussein, an Ezidi psychotherapist for the Free Yezidi Foundation who works with the displaced, told Kurdistan 24 that there was also a high number of suicides among the community last year. 

She explained, “I believe the cause of the suicide cases is psychological. It’s also a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and financial problems. Many people lost their jobs and there are social issues.”

Yesim Arikut Treece, a clinical psychologist at FYF, told Kurdistan 24 that the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the situation.

“(Foreign) NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) stopped a lot of services and most of the Yezidis that are daily construction workers lost their jobs. Some families went back to Shingal, but it is still unsafe and in ruins. All of this make the situation much worse.”

She added that, before the COVID-19 pandemic, the FYF also had large meetings with displaced Ezidis to offer them psychological and mental support.

“But now, it is very limited in numbers due to COVID-19. We used to reach thousands of people,” she continued, “Now field visits are much more restricted.”

“In this situation, the mental health situation got much worse, and services provided are fewer. I think that made people lose their hope. They have had enough, so there has been a spike in suicides.”

Adlah Dahar, a member of the displaced Ezidi community who works for the organization in Duhok province’s Sharyia Camp, says there are no future prospects for Ezidis who are still displaced several years after the Shingal genocide.
“It’s very important to return to Sinjar, but we all know it's not possible because of the instability in Sinjar.”

“I don’t have a house in Sinjar. How I can go back to Sinjar? That’s why Yezidis are not returning,” she said. “Since there are thousands of people like me, what should I do? Take my tent with me and live in Sinjar? It’s better for me to stay here.”

“We live in Kurdistan and we are safe. The only danger is the burning of tents, but in Sinjar we know it’s not safe for our people. People live in constant fear, and there are different political parties and checkpoints.”

According to Rihan Farhan, who works in the Khanke displacement camp, no one dares to go outside after 8 p.m. in the city. “Then, it’s better to live in IDP camps and safer areas.”

Sabrin Seyda, who works in the same camp, says there is “no water, electricity; nothing is done for Sinjar.”

“All the Yezidis are thinking, ‘When I am going to return? When will we be able to return and have a normal life?’ That’s why the suicides are going up and every day they think and ask the same question.”

Mayan Hussein suggested that the only option is to offer financial support to Ezidis and start the rebuilding of Shingal.

“A lot of people want to go back, but they have nothing; no buildings, no houses. How they can return? That’s why I think that they basically need financial support.”

Editing by John J. Catherine