In 2014, World woke up to the plight of Yazidis when the Islamic State terrorists murdered and maimed, and raped the Yazidi men and women. Several Yazidi Children saw their parents murdered by the Islamic State while many died due to thirst and hunger.
The slaughter shook the world and it was expected that Yazidis would get swift justice. Even when the Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the head of Islamic State, is dead, yet the fear of his terrorists looms large over the heads of Yazidi refugees, who have since 2014, lived under fear for their lives in the camps.
According to the United Nations, 1.8 million people remain displaced, living in internally displaced persons (IDP) camps across Iraq and several of them are Yazidis.
Now, there are other worries that are threatening their existence and that is none other than Coronavirus or COVID 19.
A press note by a group of Yazidi organizations highlights the plight of the Yazidi refugees that now have to fight on another front and that is Coronavirus.
Due to restrictions on individual movement, the traumatized people may face mental health issues including an increase in suicide rates.
Anwar Khider Alo, a young Yazidi boy recently committed suicide by hanging himself as he could not bear the trauma any further. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) had early on October 4th, 2019, reported about the increase in the suicide cases in these camps.
— Namta Gupta (@Namta_G) April 25, 2020
In its report the MSF reported that between ‘April and August 2019, 24 patients were brought to the emergency room of Sinuni’s hospital had attempted suicide – six of whom died before arrival at the hospital or could not be saved. Of the 24, 46 percent were below the age of 18. The youngest, a 13-year-old girl who had hung herself, was dead on arrival at the emergency room. Fifty-four per cents were women or girls, four of whom died of self-immolation.’
MSF had requested increased international and national investment in mental healthcare across Iraq to stop the tide of these cases but little to nothing has been done till now.
Now, with Coronavirus overwhelming whatever little Iraq had to spare for the Yazidis.
Worse, is that Iraq’s current battle with the economy as well as coronavirus, is again sowing, the Yazidis fear, the return of Islamic Militants so those who desire to go back to their homes in Sinjar are keeping put in cramped spaces of their tents waiting for freedom as well as dignity to live a free life.
There are tents where several members of families are staying together sharing bathrooms and kitchens with no space to spare for exercise social distancing or self-isolation. No hand sanitisers, no place for quarantine and no way to access mental health help, has become a behemoth challenge for the Yazidi refugees.
Media and relation manager @Yazda Global Organization, Saad Babir who I spoke to, for further details, highlighted that as far as he is aware the World Health Organization (WHO) has not done anything to help Yazidi refugees especially in a time like this especially with regards to mental health. But he admitted that there were other groups involved in providing some help but he insisted that it is the WHO that needs to step in and send urgent assessment missions to Sinjar, Tel Afar, and the Nineveh Plain, and provide testing capacities for all IDP camps.
Refuge providing countries must step in
At present, there is no sterilization equipment, no hand sanitizers, no protective gear, and no masks in the refugee camps.
There are Yazidi camps in Iraq and Turkey, but with Iraq already fighting a downward turn in its already fragile economy, very little can be expected of it, while with regards to aid from the State of Turkey, again, Saad was non-committal.
It would be better for Turkey to provide for the refugees because Coronavirus can spread swiftly and the host may end up becoming the next victim of this pandemic.
Lack of Testing in Camps
Worse is that even the spread of Coronavirus is unknown as there is no testing taking place in the camps. Adding to the woes of the Yazidis, the restrictions on the movement have greatly affected the work of humanitarian assistance providers on whom the Yazidis were depending for everyday human needs such as food, potable water, and medicines.
While the Turkmen, Assyrians Christians suffered displacement like the Yazidis, yet they at least have returned home while the Yazidis are still in their tents because when the Islamic state subjected the Yazidis to a genocide it broke the back of this little minority of the Muslim-majority Middle East.
Others like the Assyrian Christians were also subjected to inhumane treatment and religious persecution but it is Yazidis who are the hardest hit.
A Yazidi man on the condition of anonymity said that after the return of the state of Iraq, Shia and Sunni Muslims again got their rights, but the Yazidis are still standing in quicksand with no rescuer in sight.
Yazidis seek international help during the Coronavirus
Yazidis prior to the 2014 genocide lived in the peaceful areas of the Nineveh and the Sinjar, and depended mostly on the Kurds for safety, Saad says.
But when ISIS came the Kurdish government abandoned the Yazidis and the latter being non-Muslim minority was subjected to a genocide from which they have not been able to recover mentally even after more than half-a-decade.
The Yazidi groups are demanding safety for the Yazidi refugees to return home as due to Coronavirus pandemic the anti-terrorism ops by the coalition forces have taken a hit emboldening the scattered Islamic State terrorists.
These groups are requesting the Government of Iraq to work with the United Nations and expedite efforts to bring ISIS fighters ‘to justice for the genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, and to incorporate the aforementioned international crimes into its penal code.’
Yazidi groups are also demanding that the WHO must undertake an urgent assessment mission to Sinjar, Tel Afar and the Nineveh Plain, and provide testing capacities for all IDP camps.
The Yazidi group are requesting UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights ‘should, where present, monitor and report on the impact of measures taken by the authority to stem COVID-19 on human rights.’
A WHO mental health crisis plan, including suicide prevention awareness campaign, is the need of the hour, the groups say.
The Yazidi groups have pointed out the lack of medical facilities like in Sinjar there are just two hospitals and with little artificial oxygen.
Quarantine space in Mosul is small and all confirmed and suspected cases are being referred to this place. Add to it, lack of testing kits for Coronavirus and the cramped space of tents may lead to the spread of this pandemic swiftly.
And then comes the most obvious question.
Will the Yazidis regain their freedom?
Baghdadi may be dead but his terrorists are still around, the ideology is still alive, and the dream of establishing a Caliphate is still a smoldering passion for extremists across the globe. In such a situation, Yazidis are suffering a sentence worse than death but not for any crime, but for being innocents.
The world powers must step in to help them in rehabilitation and in regaining their freedom but first providing urgent medical aid is the need of the hour.