Iraq News

With ISIS stripped of territory, search for missing Yazidis widens

By Khalid al-Taie

A Yazidi woman embraces her father after she was rescued from the 'Islamic State of Iraq and Syria' in this photo posted online on November 7th, 2017. [Photo from Hussein Qaidi's Facebook page]

A Yazidi woman embraces her father after she was rescued from the 'Islamic State of Iraq and Syria' in this photo posted online on November 7th, 2017. [Photo from Hussein Qaidi's Facebook page]

In the aftermath of the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) group's defeat in Iraq, search operations are intensifying to find missing Yazidis held captive by the group.

Iraqi authorities have been trying to trace the abductees over the last three years across Iraq and Syria, and have so far managed to locate and free thousands from the grip of their ISIS captors.

But about 3,000 others are still missing, half of whom are women and young girls, according to the Office for Yazidi Abductee Affairs in Dohuk.

Between early October and mid-November, the office's search teams have rescued a total of 22 Yazidis, including women, who were kidnapped by ISIS and held in Syria since 2014.

"This is another group of victims that we managed to bring safely back to their families with the help of the security authorities in the Kurdish region," said Office for Yazidi Abductee Affairs head Hussein Qaidi.

"They were in a very bad psychological and physical condition, but they are now safe," he told Diyaruna.

During their forced detention, the Yazidis were subjected to extreme violence and oppression as women were sold as chattel amongst ISIS members and raped.

"We are currently working with the health directorate in Dohuk province to provide emergency medical services to those released," Qaidi said.

With the latest rescue effort, the number of Yazidis who have been freed from ISIS has reached 3,191, including 1,100 women and 335 men, he said.

The rest are young boys and girls, he added.

Concern over fate of Yazidis

Qaidi said the office will spare no effort to find Yazidis who are still missing.

"Our reports indicated that a large number of kidnapped Yazidis were being held in Mosul, but we have only found a few of them after the city was liberated," he said.

The same applies to al-Raqa, which was liberated from ISIS by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) on October 18th.

"We have not lost hope," Qaidi said, adding that the kidnapped might be held in some of the few remaining areas still under ISIS control.

"In the end, we will know their locations and will release them," he said.

Ninawa provincial council member Barakat Shammu also raised his concern over the whereabouts of the remaining missing Yazidis.

"ISIS has fallen apart and several areas have been liberated, but until now there is no trace of the thousands who are still kidnapped," he said, calling for "ramping up search efforts".

The provincial council is collaborating with all security and military bodies as part of a joint committee tasked with searching for missing Yazidis, Shammu told Diyaruna.

"Our efforts are ongoing and there are similar efforts being conducted in Syria," he said, stressing that "every day that goes by means more suffering for those abductees and their families".

Search efforts will continue

Search efforts for missing Yazidis will continue at an even more accelerated pace after ISIS lost most of the territory it controlled, said Iraqi MP for Ninawa province Haji Kandour al-Sheikh.

"We are still looking for them in Mosul, Tal Afar and other liberated areas," he told Diyaruna.

"We have found many, while many others are still missing and we are doing our best to find and rescue them," he added.

Yazidi men and women who were rescued have described the barbaric treatment they received at the hands of the terrorist group, Kandour said.

They recounted horror stories of women being sold and raped, and men and children being enslaved and tortured, he said.

He urged the government to help the Yazidi community, especially those who are staying at refugee camps and suffering from "harsh humanitarian conditions".

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