Iraq News

Search continues for Iraq's Yazidis, office head says

By Hassan al-Obeidi in Baghdad


Through the Office for Yazidi Abductees Affairs, headed by Hussein al-Qaidi (pictured here), the authorities in Baghdad and Erbil have been working to obtain information about Yazidi victims of ISIS. [Photo courtesy of the Facebook page of Hussein al-Qaidi]

Although the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) has been ousted from all the Iraqi territory it once controlled, the fate of hundreds of Yazidi women and children it kidnapped when it overran Sinjar in August 2014 remains unknown.

Through the Office for Yazidi Abductees Affairs, authorities in Baghdad and Erbil have been working to obtain information about the Yazidi victims of ISIS.

The community and families of these victims have not lost hope, office director Hussein al-Qaidi told Diyaruna during a recent interview to discuss progress.

The office is continuing its search and inquiry efforts with continued assistance from the international coalition, international entities and UN agencies, he said.

These efforts have resulted in the release of some of the women who were abducted by ISIS, he said, though a large number of abductees have yet to be accounted for.

Diyaruna: Where do the search and inquiry efforts stand?

Hussein al-Qaidi: We are so far continuing our work of searching for and inquiring about the victims captured by ISIS terrorists, and a few days ago we were able to free a Yazidi woman who was kidnapped as a little girl in 2014 by ISIS.

She was found in al-Hol camp in Syria.

We are making progress, but doing so with limited resources. We are receiving support from the US-led international coalition and the Kurdish regional government, among others.

Diyaruna: Do you have up-to-date statistics concerning the number of kidnapped and freed victims?

Al-Qaidi: Yes, certainly, the figures are updated constantly, and the total number of victims kidnapped by ISIS terrorists stands at 6,400, all of them Yazidis, except for 15 who are Christian.

Since the office was established, we have been able to rescue 3,532 people, including 339 men and 1199 women and children. Our work was difficult and dangerous, but our faith in the cause made it much easier for us.

There are still more than 1,900 people missing. Our search revealed that some of them are in areas that had been captured by ISIS, such as Mosul, and some are still among the ISIS families in al-Hol camp. Some crossed the border between Iraq and Syria.

We hope the Iraqi government will provide us with new techniques, such as DNA testing, to help us identify more abductees and missing persons, especially those who were kidnapped when they were still children. No one knows what they look like now, as they have grown older.

Diyaruna: Is there any news about the ISIS mass graves in Sinjar?

Al-Qaidi: More than 80 Yazidi mass graves have been found in Sinjar. Some have been exhumed but most have not yet. We do not know whether they contain Yazidis or not, but we expect that they do, most of them Yazidi men who were killed when Sinjar was stormed by ISIS.

We hope to close the file and commemorate the victims found there, classifying it as one of the crimes of genocide committed by ISIS terrorists against members of the Yazidi community.

Diyaruna: Why do so many Yazidis remain outside Sinjar, even though it has been liberated?

Al-Qaidi: The truth is that more than 80% of Yazidis are living in displacement camps in Dohuk, Erbil and Sulaymaniyah, and have been there for nearly six years, for several reasons, primarily because the presence of outlawed and illegal armed militias is keeping them from returning to Sinjar.

Sinjar has become a bastion for armed groups that do not comply with the Iraqi government's decisions.

Furthermore, the Yazidis' stricken areas are not being rebuilt, and many of the homes are still booby-trapped and have not been cleared of explosives, and some have been demolished. Yazidis are also not psychologically ready to return to their previous lives and re-integrate into society, and have not undergone any rehabilitation.

Diyaruna: Are there assistance programmes for surviving victims?

Al-Qaidi: Yes, the Kurdish regional government is implementing a broad programme, so is the US, through its embassy in Baghdad. The UN also is contributing to helping the survivors overcome the psychological trauma they have experienced.

Other efforts include a German government initiative, launched a while back, through which it received about 1,000 people for treatment.

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