Coronavirus: Iraq’s Yazidis are braving pandemic to return home

More aid is needed to protect homecoming in northern Iraq, meeting on sixth anniversary of Yazidi genocide hears

epa07754123 An Iraqi Yazidi ethnic girl Aydel Salim, 5, stands with her mother as she carries the picture of her father who was kiiled by Islamic state (IS) fighters during their control on Sinjar town on 2014, as they stand at a refugees camp in Khanke town, 35 km north of Duhok city, northern Iraq on 02 August 2019.  The Kurdish northern Iraq is home to the Yazidi religious minority who was attacked and expelled by the Islamic State (IS) militia group in 2014. Hundreds of people were taken hostages then, including women used as sex slaves and as gifts between the militia fighters.  EPA/GAILAN HAJI
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On the sixth anniversary of the Yazidi genocide, an international meeting has heard that more effort is needed to help members of the community devastated by ISIS to return to Sinjar, their heartland in northern Iraq.

Yazidis, who survived ethnic cleansing by ISIS six years ago, have been returning to their homes in Iraqi Kurdistan despite the coronavirus pandemic, the online meeting was told on Sunday.

But more aid is needed to protect returning Yazidis to the land, which is under the Kurdistan Regional Government, officials and specialists said.

“Despite conflicts in the region and the Covid-19 crisis, internally displaced Yazidis are returning home to Sinjar,” said Haider Elias, head of Yazda, the group who organised the meeting.

Displaced people from the minority Yazidi sect, fleeing violence from forces loyal to the Islamic State in Sinjar town, walk towards the Syrian border, on the outskirts of Sinjar mountain, near the Syrian border town of Elierbeh of Al-Hasakah Governorate, Iraq, August 11, 2014. Picture taken August 11, 2014. REUTERS/Rodi Said/File Photo SEARCH "POY DECADE" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "REUTERS POY" FOR ALL BEST OF 2019 PACKAGES. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY.

Mr Elias did not say how many Yazidis were returning, but that 300,000, or 85 per cent of the population, were still displaced in Iraqi Kurdistan, with many living in overcrowded camps.

At least 12,000 Yazidis were killed or abducted in an ISIS ethnic cleansing campaign on Sinjar in 2014.

Men and boys were killed or indoctrinated into fighting for the terrorist group, while women and girls were enslaved and subjected to violence.

About 2,800 Yazidis are still missing, with women and children thought to be held captive in Iraq and Syria, where ISIS’s "caliphate" once stood.

Iraqi President Barham Salih called for “intensive action by our security and intelligence agencies and our friends abroad to help know the fate of the missing and rescue those still alive".

In 2016, the UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria found ISIS had committed war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide against the Yazidi people.

The Kurdistan region, which has a population of 5 million, supports 1.1 million refugees and internally displaced people.

Falah Bakir, a foreign policy adviser to the President of the Kurdistan region, Nechirvan Barzani, said that the KRG pays up to 70 per cent of the cost of caring for these populations.

“More is needed as we are living in the shadow of the pandemic,” Mr Bakir said.

“Those living in the camps are more vulnerable to contracting coronavirus."

The US ambassador to Iraq, Matthew Tueller, indicated that the Iraqi government should also bear responsibility for the return of the Yazidis.

Mr Tueller said that the US provided $470 million (Dh1.72 billion) to support Yazidis and other religious minorities in Iraq since the ISIS offensive in 2014.

“Know that our support to your community is unwavering,” he said.