Coronavirus: Iraq’s Yazidis are braving the pandemic to return home

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - On the sixth anniversary of the Yazidi genocide, an international meeting has been told that more efforts are required to help members of the community decimated by ISIS return to Sinjar, its heartland in northern Iraq.

Yazidis, who survived ethnic cleansing by ISIS six years ago, have been returning to their homes in Iraqi Kurdistan despite the coronavirus pandemic, an international meeting was told on Sunday.

But more aid is needed to safeguard the return of members of the community to Sinjar, the Yazidi heartland in northern Iraq controlled by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), officials and specialists told a virtual meeting on the sixth anniversary of the Yazidi genocide.

“Despite multiple conflicts in the region and the Covid-19 crisis, internally displaced Yazidis are returning home to Sinjar,” said Haider Elias, head of Yazda, a civil group that organised the meeting over Zoom.

Displaced people from the minority Yazidi sect, fleeing violence from ISIS forces in Sinjar town, walk towards the Syrian border, on the outskirts of Sinjar mountain, Iraq, August 11, 2014. Reuters 

He did not provide numbers on the volume of returning Yazidis but he said that 300,000 Yazidis, or 85 per cent of the Yazidi population, are still displaced within the Iraqi Kurdistan region, with many living in overcrowded camps.

At least 12,000 Yazidis were killed or abducted in an ISIS ethnic cleansing campaign on Sinjar in 2014. Men and boys were killed or indoctrinated into fighting for the terrorist group, while women and girls were forcibly converted to Islam, enslaved and subjected to violence.

Around 2,800 Yazidis remain missing, with women and children still thought to be held captive in Iraq and Syria where ISIS’s caliphate once stood.

Iraqi President Barham Salih called for “intensive action by our security and intelligence agencies and our friends abroad to help know the fate of the missing and rescue those still alive among them.”

In 2016, the United Nations Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic found that ISIS had committed war crimes, crimes against humanity, as well as genocide against the Yazidi people.

The Kurdistan region, which has a population of 5 million, supports 1.1 million refugees and internally displaced people.

Falah Mustafa Bakir, a foreign policy adviser to the president of the Kurdistan region, Nechirvan Barzani, said that the KRG pays as much as 70 per cent of the cost of caring for these populations.

“More is needed as we are living in the shadow of the pandemic,” he said, adding that helping the community was a collective effort.

“Those living in the camps are more vulnerable to contracting coronavirus” he said.

US ambassador to Iraq Matthew Tueller indicated that the Iraqi government should also bear responsibility for the return of the Yazidis, pointing out that the US has provided $470 million to support Yazidis and other religious minorities in Iraq since the ISIS offensive in 2014.

“Know that our support to your community is unwavering,” the ambassador said.

Updated: August 2, 2020 09:55 PM

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