They Survived Mount Sinjar—Now What?
Displaced Yezidis struggle with hunger and heat in crowded camps
There are 6,000 refugees from the Yezidi religious group in the Wargehe Delal camp in the Kurdish town of Zakho. Most of them survived the ordeal on Mount Sinjar, where as many as 100,000 Yezidis sought refuge from Islamic State militants in early August.
Nechirvan Ramazan, a Zakho businessman, paid for the Wargehe camp’s hasty construction. It’s big enough to accommodate 900 families. Barely … and uncomfortably.
“The camp lacks clothes and shoes for [internally displaced people] and sometimes food, too,” says Dyar Fatah, the camp’s 29-year-old volunteer administrator.
Twenty-seven-year-old Xelef Qasim says he was in Sinjar when the militants entered the town. He saw eight bodies in the street as he made his escape. “I walked from Sinjar to Siba for two days,” Qasim recalls. “I reached the Sinjar Mountain the third day.”
He was on the mountain for four days. “I didn’t eat or drink anything there for three days,” he says. “We just gave whatever we had to the kids so they can survive.”
Things got a little better when American planes and Iraqi helicopters started airdropping food and water on the mountain. With so many people, the food was spread pretty thin, Qasim says.
Qasim says he will never return to the town of Sinjar, even if Peshmerga forces are able to fully liberate it. “Arabs from our neighboring villages stole our cars and all the things that we have in our houses,” he says. “That’s why we can’t go back and live with them.”
“Our situation here is too bad because we are here for 11 days and there are no toilets or bathrooms,” Qasim adds. “The men go to the river for taking showers, but women cannot do the same. That’s why we are asking Western countries to help us.”
“Because we want to leave Iraq forever.”
Gazal Murad, a grandmother from Sinjar, comforts a young girl sweating profusely in the heat. Gazal says that militants captured five members of her family—two sons, one daughter-in-law and two grandsons.
As American warplanes struck Islamic State positions in Sinjar, her sons were able to escape in the chaos. But the others still are in militant captivity.
“Sometimes my daughter-in-law secretly calls us,” Murad says. “She is saying that they are in Tal Afar and ISIS are asking them convert to Islam and the deadline is the 24th of August. If they do not, they will kill them.”
Four days after the deadline, it’s not clear whether the militants made good on their threat.