This time last year I was in Iraq. I had plans to return this month, but the fighting in the Mosul area made the trip unwise.
I wrote the words below last November, and for some reason I don’t seem to have posted them before. With the current fighting expected to produce another half million refugees, or even more, today seems like a good time to share them.
They have lost so much, I can’t offend their dignity by saying no. I don’t like tea, but I will accept this sweet offering. They have almost nothing, but are driven to share from the little they do have.
Like most of the world I had never heard of the Yazidi people until thousands were trapped on Mount Sinjar in June 2014, as ISIS moved in in an attempt to exterminate them. The aim was clear: genocide. These people have been in this “camp” since then, 90 minutes’ drive from the scene of the conflict.
I’m with a medical team, doctor, nurse and pharmacist. They have been here before. Without visits like these the people would have no access to medical care. I don’t speak the language and my medical knowledge is weak, but I can observe and get a feel for the situation these refugees find themselves in. Technically they are not refugees, they are internally displaced people, IDPs, but the label doesn’t matter as much as the reality: They have been driven from their homes by armed conflict and cannot return.
Unlike some refugee camps, which are row on row of tents, these people are living in unfinished houses. If I understood correctly there are 1300 families in this area, up to six families in each unfinished building. When I think of a family my mind gives Canadian numbers, three or four people on average. But this is not Canada. Families here may be 13 or 16 people.
The houses are drafty. I don’t know if it is faulty masonry or they are just built that way. It was supposed to be a new subdivision, but the Yazidis moved in. There was no-where else they could go. As I understand it the developer is letting them stay. The market for new housing probably isn’t that high when ISIS is so close. None of the houses are finished. No glass on any of the windows. Some have no doors.
I am offered a tour. I have such mixed feelings. I don’t want to seem like a gawker, a voyeur taking in someone else’s misery for my entertainment. But I am here to observe, to report, and that means I should at least see.
The houses are in various stages of construction. The people in various levels of despair. Surprisingly there is electricity, which means some modern conveniences such as freezers and television. There is a certain excitement as we visit. The TVs are tuned to the news channel as on the day of our visit the Peshmerga military are re-taking Sinjar. Perhaps soon they will be able to go home.
The floors are cold concrete, but a local church is providing carpets, which will add a bit of warmth. The church has limited resources, but they do what they can. The world has forgotten them.
Now we are one year later and there is a new battle, the liberation of Mosul. Refugee estimates from that conflict vary. In the first month with the battle being fought on the city’s outskirts, there have only been about 50,000 IDPs who have escaped ISIS’ grasp. Authorities are expecting at least 250,000 before the city is completely liberated – but it could wind up being a million. The people of Sinjar haven’t gone home yet, and have no idea when they will. It still is not safe.