Why you really need to pay attention to Iraq’s Yazidi community

This tragic state of affairs needs to be taken up by the international community.

This tragic state of affairs needs to be taken up by the international community

While the world’s media attention oscillates between crises around the world, there has been a grave omission in coverage of the plight of the Yazidi community in northern Iraq who have been forced to flee their homes, due to the continuing advances of the so-called Islamic State (IS).

The brutality of the IS is regularly depicted through their propaganda videos, which it circulates on various social networking sites. Indeed, countless images of hundreds of Christians and Shia Muslims rounded up, blindfolded and shot have been circulating around the internet since June.

Their latest target, the Yazidis, are one of Iraq’s oldest ethnic minority communities, going back over 4,000 years.

With the increasing territorial gains of the extremist IS militants combined with their ruthless executions, a sentiment of fear and terror has seized the region, forcing enormous numbers of residents to upheave their lives and flee, in search of some sort of refuge.

Yazidis belong to a Kurdish ethno-religious community, which predates Islam and has its roots in Zoroastrianism and bears some resemblance to the beliefs of Sufism. There are about 700,000 Yazidis, the majority of which (500,000) live in northern Iraq, in Shekhan, northeast of Mosul and in Sinjar, along the Syrian border.

After the collapse of the Peshmerga defence (Kurdish defence forces) on Sunday, both areas are currently under IS control.

Since the establishment of the ‘Islamic State’ in June, Yazidis have been migrating further north towards Kurdish controlled areas; this week alone the town of Sinjar witnessed the desertion of all but 25,000 of its 300,000 residents.

Men, women, children, the disabled and the elderly have fled; according to humanitarian groups, there are at least 40,000 refugees residing in nine locations on Mount Sinjar.

A further 130,000 more people have fled on foot to Dohuk or Irbil, northern Kurdish towns at least a five hour car journey away. The lack of basic resources and sanitation for these people is the biggest challenge facing humanitarian aid workers; because IS have seized control over roads across the region, no aid can get in and no one can get out.

According to regional authorities, this is one of the biggest and fastest displacements of people that they have ever had to accommodate. Unicef representatives have told of the enormous stress of dehydration and fatigue being faced by the community, shedding light on the impossible and unsustainable living conditions.

The Iraqi government’s attempt to airdrop bottled water onto the mountainside on Monday seemed to be largely unsuccessful. Iraq’s Unicef representative, Marzio Babille, has said that UN agencies have offered technical assistance to the government in effecting this scheme, but have yet to be contacted.

The prospects for the Yazidis are limited; they are stranded in over-cramped refugee camps on a mountaintop with a two kilometre trek to fetch water, which has already resulted in at least 40 fatalities from fatigue and dehydration this week, the majority being elderly and children.

Those who decided not to leave their homes have been left at the hands of the IS militants; the men have been killed and the women have been sold as ‘jihadi brides’. During the past week, at least 500 Yazidis have been killed on the ground, the evidence of which has been bragged about on social networking sites.

This tragic state of affairs is something that needs to be taken up by the international community. Despite the extreme brutality of the IS and their relentless advances, no credible opposition force – national or international – has confronted the militants.

Over the last few weeks, the media spotlight has focused almost exclusively on Ukraine and Gaza. However, it is imperative that the international community is fully aware of what is essentially an ethno-religious cleansing of the Yazidi people from North-West Iraq.

This, as well as the continually expanding IS threat, must be recognised globally and tackled with urgency.

Sofia Patel is a Middle East researcher

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