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The Shameful Abandonment of the Yazidis

An Iraqi Yazidi refugee girl attends a commemoration of the third anniversary of the Yazidi genocide in Sinjar region, in the village of Nea Apollonia where more than 400 Yazidis live in apartments provided by a UNHCR-sponsored housing scheme, near Thessaloniki, Greece, August 3, 2017. | (Photo: REUTERS/Alexandros Avramidis)

Last month, Yazidis commemorated the genocide perpetrated against them in August 2014, when ISIS attacked the region around Mount Sinjar in northwestern Iraq on the border with Syria. Proclaiming its intent to destroy the Yazidi minority, ISIS killed an estimated 3,100 defenseless Yazidis – by shooting, beheading or burning them alive – during the course of a few days, while others died during ISIS' siege of Mount Sinjar, where many Yazidis fled after the genocide began. Another estimated 6,800 Yazidis were kidnapped – the women and girls were sold into sex slavery and young boys were forced to become fighters for ISIS. More than 3,500 of those kidnapped Yazidis are still missing today.

While the Yazidis were begging for help, the international community yawned and looked the other way. No social justice warriors found it in their hearts to spare a little justice for the six-year-old Yazidis being raped by grown Muslim men while their fathers and grandfathers were being summarily executed and their sisters and mothers taken away as sex slaves.

Four days after the genocide began, the Obama administration reluctantly ordered air strikes and air-dropped humanitarian aid. Since then, however, very little has been done for the Yazidis, who continue living abandoned and endangered lives of abject poverty.

This danger became evident when Turkey recently killed Zaki Shengali, an ethnic Yazidi and a senior leader in the Kurdish PKK, in an airstrike on Sinjar, as he was leaving a ceremony commemorating the genocide of Yazidis in the village of Kocho. Shengali saved thousands of Yazidis in August 2014, when he helped open up a safe corridor for them to escape Mount Sinjar. There has been no international condemnation of Turkey for the targeted assassination of a Yazidi convoy in Iraq. Turkey has said it will not allow Sinjar to become a "new Qandil," referring to a PKK stronghold in Iraq near the border with Turkey, and has announced that it intends to expand its airstrikes into Iraq and Syria. That leaves the Yazidis extremely vulnerable to being attacked, once more. The UN and others, however, as in the past, stand by in silence.

To this day, no ISIS fighter has stood trial for war crimes committed against Yazidis. Mass graves of the victims that need to be exhumed to secure evidence, remain unprotected in Sinjar. Instead, many former ISIS fighters are walking around freely as "refugees" in the West, where they are able to torment their former victims at their leisure. In Germany, a Yazidi girl named Ashwaq, who had escaped ISIS captivity, ran into one of her former tormentors who told her he knew everything about her. She fled back to Iraq, as the German police told her they didn't have "enough evidence" to prosecute the man. This encounter is not unique, but most Yazidi women and girls are too afraid to step forward.

Back in Sinjar, Ashwaq is unlikely to be able to create any kind of sustainable future for herself. The villages were destroyed by ISIS and hardly anything has been rebuilt. The area has not been de-mined, and returning Yazidis are still killed by remaining unexploded devices. Furthermore, aid donated by the international community is not reaching the Yazidis, as Iraqi politicians are reportedly refusing to disburse the needed aid funds to the area in and around Sinjar.

As Sinjar is currently dangerous and virtually uninhabitable with the added threat of potential bombardments from Turkey, Yazidis should be allowed to emigrate to the West. However, the UN does not prioritize helping Yazidi refugees. Take the UK as an example: In 2016, the UNHCR recommended 7,499 refugees to the UK, of whom only five were Yazidis. In 2015, out of 2,637 recommended refugees, 13 were Yazidis. In 2017, out of 7,060 recommended refugees, only seven were Yazidis. Reportedly, Yazidi survivors who fled to Turkey have to wait until 2022 just for an appointment with the UNHCR.

The international community has abandoned the Yazidis without so much as an afterthought and has left them, quite literally, to die. That is shameful and belies the claim to care for human rights.

Judith Bergman is a writer and political analyst based in Israel. She is a fellow with the news and public policy group Haym Salomon Center. @salomoncenter

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