The Yazidi people are an ethno-religious group resulting from a mixture of Christianity, Islam, and Zoroastrianism. They are monotheistic, worshipping one God and a prophet named Sheikh Adi Ibn Musafir Al-Umawi. Their holy text includes Jesus, Mary, Adam and Eve, Moses, Mohammed, and other prophets shared in monotheism. The Yazidis have resided in Northern Iraq/Kurdistan since Mesopotamian times, along with other communities in Turkey, Syria, and Armenia. However, as with the Assyrian Christian population, they have been in significant decline due to centuries of discrimination and violence. According to their narrative, they are survivors of 72 genocidal campaigns against them.
Most recently in August 2014, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS, or its Arabic pejorative Daesh) commenced a brutal campaign of complete extermination against the Yazidi people, which can only be described as genocide. ISIS attacked Sinjar Mountain, the second holiest place of worship for Yazidis, resulting in a massive Diaspora. According to the International Office of Migration (IOM), there are more than 1.3 million displaced Yazidis from Sinjar, Mosul, and other locations in Northern Iraq/Kurdistan (http://iomiraq.net/issues-focus/iraq-idp-crisis).
The following derives from interviews with Yazidi Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Northern Iraq / Kurdistan at Camp Sharya in Duhok municipality. It highlights the conditions of the camp.
(Jalal on the left in black shirt and pants)
Jalal is a merchant in the camp. He speaks highly of the quality of water, decent medical services, and available education (grades KG to high school). However, he notes a dearth of variety in goods sold at markets, at one moment in our interview, pointing toward the only three available kinds of cigarettes,“ MM is the refugees’ official cigarette.”
He also complains of other IDPs having to walk a long distance to attend classes at a high school, inconveniently placed far outside of the camp. Finally, and the most common complaint by IDPs in Sharya Camp, he emphasizes the electrical outages. It is the norm for residents to line the streets drinking tea over conversations in front of tents in the early mornings, due to powerless ACs.
Jalal additionally adds that the alternative of gas is unsafe. In one incident, he witnessed twenty propane tanks explode on a merchant truck in the camp. Nevertheless, Jalal hopes for development and more humanitarian group involvement in the near future.
A resident, former Peshmerga volunteer, and community activist in the camp named Najee, along with his relative Amin, both augmented Jalal’s previous complaint that electrical outages are the biggest conundrum in Sharya Camp. Najee cited that the electrical outages occur with more frequency and last a longer duration than citizens outside Sharya Camp experience in a daily period. This leaves the IDPS vulnerable to heat exhaustion and heat stroke, especially for the elderly and obese.
Najee also stated the IDPs need more clothes, school supplies, and after-school activities and English programs. His relative, Amin, complained of the over-crowdedness of the camp, an absence of fire control, and a severe lack of employment opportunities.
Nevertheless, both Najee and Amin praised the medical services in Sharya Camp, while Amin lauded Save the Children organization for providing the camp with a plethora of sanitary public bathrooms.
Sinjar Foundation Doing Amazing Work
IDPs aren’t the only presence within Sharya Camp. Organizations such as Sinjar Foundation have been operating there for 2 years while fulfilling the need for remedial English and handicraft courses for KG. They admirably service approximately 200 children daily, and also on weekends between 9am and 3pm.
Other activities they offer to the children are plays, theatre, music, and occasionally handing out toys. This amazing organization also lauds Save the Children and complains of no Arabic programs within the camp. However, they need more volunteers and funding as they stated.
After six years of traversing Syrian refugee camps in Jordan, I feel the conditions of Sharya Camp are better in juxtaposition to Syrian refugee camps in Jordan. The IDPs in Sharya Camp possess various markets that augment a viable economy. They also have clean and sufficient bathrooms, clean water with many access points, tents with satellite television and ACs, and some IDPs even park their vehicles directly in front of their tents.
Others grow plants and lay cement for patios. The IDPs also attend schools regularly, have access to decent medical care, a working internet, and participate in activities at a UN facility in the center of the camp. Most importantly, the IDPs are allowed to enter and leave the camp as they please without a “kaffala” or sponsorship system as Jordan (Syrian refugees leave camps via a Jordanian guaranteeing or sponsoring them which sometimes leads to exploitation and human trafficking).
In Sharya Camp, it is the norm to witness IDPs lightheartedly bicycling throughout the streets, jokingly playing board games, or even plucking the strings of a banjo in the streets. The atmosphere is healthy and jovial. NGOs and the UNHCR have done a good job in this camp.
However, there are a few yet significant complaints. Sharya Camp is plagued by electrical outages which may not only augment psychological trauma, but lead to health problems. The IDPs also risk danger from fire heating, as Syrian refugees in camps within Jordan.
Additionally, a lack of transportation to the High School outside the camp deters a higher rate of attendees for continuing education. And the educational programs existing in Sharya Camp, such as English and Arabic, are weak and require more funding and volunteers. Most importantly, these IDPs’ future seems bleak due to a lack of employment opportunities which may allow them to possibly integrate into their host communities. It is hopeful these preceding complaints will be addressed.
Taiyo “Siraj” Davis
Master of Arts, History
English and History Instructor
Author of Religious Fanaticism: Early 19th Century Marginalization of David Walker and Nat Turner
and The Pursuit of Love Against the War of Terrorism
Author of various international publications on human rights, in six different languages
News Journalist for Salem News
Amnesty International Lobbyist and Organizer
American Families United Lobbyist
Asian Student Association Co-founder
American Association for Palestinian Rights Organizer
Founder and president of Clemson University Collective Consciousness human rights organization
Constituent of the Truth, Justice, and Peace Movement and the Liberate Ziyad Yaghi Campaign