Sweden’s Embassy in Iraq recently carried out a field visit to meet Yazidi representatives to see how Swedish aid initiatives – through organisations such as UNFPA and UNMAS – are making a difference.
Still today, 300 000 Yazidis are living as internally displaced persons in Iraq. More than a year after the military defeat of Daesh in Iraq, the situation remains difficult in the liberated areas. Iraq’s Yazidi population, who were driven from their homes on the Nineveh Plains in northern Iraq, are particularly affected.
Daesh’s brutal offensive against the Nineveh Plains late in the summer of 2014 resulted in a large-scale expulsion of the Yazidi minority population who have lived in the area for hundreds of years. Over 360 000 Yazidis were forced to flee for their lives, and close to 6 800 were kidnapped and 3 100 killed in large massacres. This tragedy has hit the Yazidi population hard. Still today, 300 000 Yazidis are living as internally displaced persons in Iraq, and according to the UN International Organisation for Migration (IOM), 87 per cent of them state that they do not want to return to their home regions. Over 3 000 Yazidis who were taken prisoner by Daesh are still missing.
Representatives of the Embassy visited the seat of the Yazidis’ religious and political leadership in the village of Lalish in the Kurdish province of Duhok for talks about the complicated geopolitical situation in the Yazidis’ home communities in Sinjar and their expectations about Daesh being held to account for their crimes, including with the help of the UN Investigative Team to promote accountability for crimes committed by Daesh/Islamic State in Iraq (UNITAD).
Embassy representatives also visited the refugee camp Sharya, where 92 per cent of the population are Yazidis. Families are living in basic and overcrowded conditions, in tents that have not been replaced in many years and are not suited to the winter temperatures. Embassy representatives also visited UNFPA facilities that, with the support of Sweden and others, offer medical and psychosocial support to ‘Daesh survivors’ – above all Yazidi women who had been kidnapped and raped by Daesh.
The situation in the town of Sinjar and the surrounding villages is still very difficult, more than three years after the area was liberated from Daesh. The security situation is very unstable and the area is contaminated by mines, meaning that reconstruction work is making slow progress.
Before 2014 there were 83 000 inhabitants in the area – only 3 000 of these are said to have returned. The support given by Sweden and others for mine clearance through organisations such as UNMAS and MAG is crucial for enabling reconstruction.
Embassy representatives also visited Kocho, the home village of Nobel Laureate Nadia Murad. Over 700 Yazidis, including many of Nadia Murad’s family members, were executed when Daesh occupied the village, and hundreds were kidnapped and enslaved. The local primary school, where Daesh first imprisoned the villagers, is now a moving memorial with walls covered in photos of the dead and the missing. The Embassy visitors also saw the mass graves just a stone’s throw away from the school, an open wound for the thousands of people who are still seeking answers about what happened to their loved ones.
Although the Yazidi minority is particularly vulnerable, their situation reveals the broader challenges facing Iraq in the post-Daesh period: reconstruction, returns, accountability and reconciliation.
In addition to the 300 000 internally displaced Yazidis, there are 1.5 million refugees who have not yet been able to return to their homes because of the lack of reconstruction and basic public services, poor security and social tensions.
In a country where over a million people are estimated missing – a result of decades of violence and oppression – there is a great need for accountability and reconciliation to heal the deep wounds. Hopefully, this year’s Nobel Peace Prize and the international attention directed at the situation in Sinjar can contribute to steps being taken in the right direction, towards a more peaceful Iraq.