Liberated Yazidis. Between Hope, Fear and Sad Certainty

Khalil stops by the roadside near Sharya and turns off the engine. "We're waiting here. Someone is coming to pick us up." A car stops next to us. Somebody gets out. It is Idan Shekh Kalo, the director of the local Yazidi Affairs Authority in Dohuk. Khalil hugs him. They've known each other for years.

"Follow me," he asks, jumping into his car. We follow the dusty road, past the old village houses on the left and right, which are decorated with numerous white tents. Between them are goats and sheep, geese and chickens, an idyllic village; but appearances are deceiving. We are here in a camp. Camps are the places where those fleeing the Islamic State have found a temporary refuge. There are diverse kinds of camps; the official camps, which are fenced and guarded and with a camp management, the 'wild camps', and the 'abandoned villages'. 

We drive to one of the wild camps near an abandoned village. It lies on the edge of the mountains, very close to newer settlements. "Why are these houses called 'abandoned villages'?" I ask, "And why have these new buildings been built directly in front of them?" "This comes from the time of Saddam," Khalil says. "He told the villagers to leave their houses and resettle in the plains again; he was worried that the Peshmerga could hide well there, and because of the close proximity of the mountains, they would be able to flee to them quickly.  In the plains, the villages were more easily controlled by his people." Now, refugees live in these abandoned houses, trying to cope with the past, to the extent possible, and to find their way in the present. 

We have arrived. Idan Shekh Kalo jumps out of his car and tells us to get out too. There are three women sitting in front of the tent. They stand up. The usual greeting "ser sera u ser cava." "We want to see how you are doing," explains Khalil. "And we have the mattresses that you needed."

These are people from several families who live here together. Some are liberated, other relatives remain captives of IS. Some of them are known to still be alive. They are in contact with some of them. Others are known to be dead or resold, so there is no contact anymore. Khalil is concerned with "the liberated girl." She is on his list, and he has a lot in his pickup truck for her. He is shocked when he sees her. "I did not believe it was her," he admits. "She looks like a married elderly woman with children, but it is her, she is the girl S." S. remains silent and stares fixatedly in front of her. Two other women speak for her. She was in captivity for almost two and a half years, from August 2014 to February 2017; a dramatic captivity. We forgo any further questions, to avoid reopening wounds. Three more relatives from her family are still held by IS. She was the only one from eleven people who could be saved. "She is mentally ill and receives care" explains Idan Shekh Kalo. He does not need to explain this to us; if there is a person who exudes despair, grief, or trauma, then it is S.

"He still has 23 people there," he continues, "father, brother, daughter and son, but also other relatives." He? We look around. A man has joined, a boy by the hand. "We need some money to get them out, but it's very difficult. My son is ‘for sale’, but we would need $15,000 to buy him out. The government does not help us; even the many aid organizations do not. Almost all of them have disappeared again, because all this has been going on for so long. If there are no quick successes, they all leave again quickly. We must find the money ourselves somehow; the government will not give us anything. In that case they would also be paying to finance IS. It is impossible, $15,000, where could we get that from?” He sighs. Idan Shekh Kalo explains, "Support is available only for liberated people; for them, you get the money back. However, you have to explain everything very specifically, to the agents and everything, like how they were liberated; it is lot of bureaucracy, which is not easy for them. "We have to help because they only get the purchase money back and a little for clothes, nothing else."

We ask how to contact the relatives, and later contacting IS works, in order to bring back the abducted ones. "It depends. They have taken everything away from them. Some of them still have a phone number in their minds when they have a chance to find a phone, then call and try to get in touch with the family. That is why we have occasional contact with Raqqa. Or why we know that a daughter was sold to the Saudis .... "
"But if someone is bought back, it will never be disclosed openly," he continues. "They have been liberated, it is said". 

We ask whether the liberation action of the 36 people on the night of April 29th was a fortunate coincidence, that so many could be liberated at once so close to the battlefield around Mosul. "No," is the answer; "it was a very dangerous and secret action that had been worked on for a very long time, and if they had been caught, they would have received the death penalty. Or, bombs could have fallen close by. If you were confused with the enemy, they would have opened fire; there were mines everywhere as well. No, it was not a coincidence tonight, but rather a happy outcome of a planned action through previous long-term contact with the intermediaries."

As always, when curious strangers pass by, we are surrounded by many children who look at us attentively. We also wanted to know whether these children were liberated. "Him here" answers the father "he has been one of our agents." We look at the boy in disbelief. He is maybe around 10 years old. He was six years old when he was captured, we were told. His luck was his good knowledge of cell phone use. Therefore, he did not need to go to the children's training camp, but rather to 'sell'. His father takes his mobile phone out of his pocket and shows us videos. Two timid children are talking something into the camera. These are 'online sales listings'. Little children begging to be 'bought'. The boy had to perform this 'job'. He is in one video himself. In another is his little brother. Through these videos, his father knew that his son was still alive and also that his little daughter was sold abroad.

We are disgusted. We are horrified. We are speechless. Tears run everywhere. We carefully finish the conversation. Thank you, thank you so much, to all who told us their stories! We know it is not easy, but we must ask in order to tell others about what happened, so that perhaps somewhere people will hear, people who are willing to help to ensure that there are more successful liberations.


Khalil Qasim Bozani and Verena Rösner took part in this conversation.

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