Researchers who’ve interviewed survivors describe their trauma as the “most distressing” they’ve ever experienced.
AN IRISH CHARITY is urgently seeking donations to help the former sex slaves of Islamic State soldiers, also known as ISIS.
Syrias Vibes, an Irish-based charity set up to help the innocent victims of the wars in Iraq and Syria, is seeking to fund a psychologist to work with Yazidi women, after the psychologist’s contract with an Italian NGO expired three weeks ago.
The Yazidis, an ethno-religious minority based predominantly in northern Iraq, were targeted by Isis in a “convert or die” campaign in the summer of 2014.
Up to 5,000 men and boys were slaughtered and dumped in mass graves while up to 7,000 women and children were taken into captivity where, it’s believed, as many as 3,000 remain.
The women were sold as slaves in markets, as much as 15 times within the group, and researchers who’ve interviewed survivors describe their trauma as the “most distressing” they’ve ever experienced.
Calvin James, a Dublin-born DJ and special needs assistant, set up Syrias Vibes last year and has raised enough cash from Irish donors to buy an ambulance and life-saving equipment.
Last year James volunteered for the Kurdish Red Crescent in Syria, at immense risk to himself.
Speaking in the Kurdistan Region, of northern Iraq, James is focusing on a new project for survivors of the Yazidi genocide after visiting several camps in the region and discovering the total absence of support for former sex slaves.
“I was in Bajed Kandala IDP (Internally Displaced Peoples) Camp in Dohuk province (northern Iraq) which is home to 7000 Yazidi survivors of the genocide by IS of 2014.
The camp sees around 5 people returning from captivity a week. Some managed to escape, others are bought back at extortionate rates, but all have little to come back to once they reach the safety of the camps.
“They’ve been abused sexually and physically. Some survivors had been sold upwards of 15 times within the Islamic State,” James said.
Convert or die
Shortly after Isis’ “convert or die” campaign in the summer of 2014, a video emerged online of Isis members negotiating the price of Yazidi girls on what one participant in the video called “female slave market day”.
The video, reportedly shot in Mosul, in northern Iraq, shows several Isis members enjoying themselves talking gleefully about the “share” of Yazidi women they feel entitled to.
Blue and green eyed girls were more expensive, according to the boastful participants in the video. One of them says he would need to check the teeth of the 15-year-old being auctioned because: “if she doesn’t have teeth, why would I want her”.
James said the Yazidis were a “peaceful and secular ethno religious minority who only want to go home to Shingal” – the epicentre of Isis’ “convert of die” campaign.
“They have lived in this camp and a further 23 camps in Dohuk for the past 3 years and they’re tired of it.
“The UNHCR agency provides families with food and shelter, that’s it. In the current situation education is deemed a luxury and teaching is done on a voluntary basis usually by fellow” survivors and internally displaced peoples. “So services such as counselling and psychology are skeletal.”
“Once free, this is when survivors need the most support. Private psychologists are available but families don’t have any money after living in a camp without work for three years.
“So we at Syrias Vibes came across a psychologist who was being funded by an Italian NGO. Her contract expired 2 weeks ago so we took it over. She sees 25 survivors a month, makes referrals and prescribes medication when necessary.
“This service costs €2,000 to run so we’re aiming to keep this running as long as possible, hopefully beyond the end of the war too.”
Skye Wheeler, a women’s rights researcher for Human Rights Watch, visited the same region and several of the same camps as James in January.
As somebody who has documented war crimes against women across the world, Wheeler says the interviews she conducted with Yazidi women were “the most distressing I’ve ever done”.
“Not only because of the horrors the women and girls I interviewed had suffered – abductions, beatings, being forcibly “converted” to Islam and into marriage and kept as sex slaves sometimes after being traded between several ISIS fighters – but because their pain was very alive, present.”
“Survivors described still waking up screaming, being unable to sleep, depressed mood and stigmatisation.”
I also heard again and again how the greatest fear and sadness was for family members still in ISIS captivity, including sometimes their own children.
“This is devastating survivors told me: to wake every day and re-remember that your child or sister is still in the hell you escaped.”
“There have been many different efforts to provide healthcare, including mental healthcare and psychosocial care to the survivors. But women and girls we spoke to often had difficulty accessing services.”
“We also found that there was a lack of psychologists and psychiatrists in the area where most of the Yezidi displacement camps are, especially women mental health workers.”
(Originally appeared at thejournal.ie, click here for more)