Updated: Mar 8
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) (often known as ISIS, or simply as IS) is recognized by the United Nations as the perpetrator of a genocide of Yazidis in the Sinjar area, northern Iraq in 2014. The genocide led to the expulsion, flight and effective exile of the Yazidis from their ancestral lands in Upper Mesopotamia. Thousands of Yazidi women and girls were forced into sexual slavery by the Islamic State, and thousands of Yazidi men were killed. Five thousand Yazidi civilians were killed during what has been called a "forced conversion campaign" being carried out by ISIL in Northern Iraq. The genocide began following the withdrawal of the Kurdistan Regional Government's Peshmerga, which left the Yazidis defenseless. ISIL's actions against the Yazidi population have resulted in approximately 500,000 people becoming internally displaced persons (IDPs).
60,000 of these Yazidis now live in and around the Essyan and Khanke IDP camps in the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq.
The AMAR International Charitable Foundation established a Primary Healthcare clinic (PHCC) in the Khanke camp in 2014 and took over the management of the PHCC in the Essyan camp in 2017. Our medical staff have provided medical and mental health care to thousands of the men, women and children living in these camps.
The purpose of my visit to the camps in 2019 was to meet our local staff and see the conditions in which they worked for myself. I flew into Erbil and was driven to Dohuk by our local manager. He then took me to the Essyan and Khanke camps, which are south and west of Dohuk. The Essyan IDP camp houses around 15,000 people and is around 1.5km long and half a kilometer wide. Each family has a tent, with a small kitchen, WC and a shower cubicle. They have electricity, running water and sanitation services.
One of the families invited me into their tent. Carpets covered the rough concrete base, which was good as they had no furniture. We sat on the floor and they told me their stories. The little girl's mother told me that her husband had been killed by ISIL and that she had fled with her daughter, who was only a few weeks old. They tried to leave Iraq over the Syrian border but were turned away. She then walked towards Dohuk with her baby and ended up in the Essyan camp. Her daughter has spent almost all her life in this tent. In the summer, the tents get very hot and in winter, they have to contend with the cold, freezing rain and snow.
Below is a link to a panoramic view of the Essyan camp to give you a better sense of what it would be like to live in an IDP camp:
The Khanke camp is slightly larger and is surrounded by small unofficial camps. Around 16,000 live in the camp and around 30,000 people live around the camp.
The clinics in both camps are staffed with local doctors, nurses, dentists, laboratory technicians, pharmacists and ultrasound specialists. They are supported by security guards, drivers and administrators. More recently, AMAR added psychiatrists and psychotherapists who help with mental health care. Baillie Gifford provided the much needed funding to keep these units running before and during the COVID pandemic.
AMAR also established a training centre that delivered vocational training to the men and women in the Khanke camp that has helped them find employment and prepare for life after the camps.
The senior doctors in each clinic showed me around and I could be impressed by their professionalism and the level of care that there were able to provide.
I also met members of the
Yazidi choir that we helped establish. They are doing well and even performed for Prince Charles in Clarence House on their last visit to London. The role music p
lays in the recovery of people forced to live in IDP or refugee camps cannot not be overstated.
I am sad to have to report that our donor funding for these clinics may be coming to an end. We have already transferred the management of the Essyan PHCC to another NGO and are now seeking to the same for Khanke if our last attempts to secure new funding do not succeed. The need for these clinics remains as the majority of Yazidis still do not feel that it is safe for them to return to their homes. ISIL has been defeated a military force, but as a doctrine, it is still alive and well in Iraq.
We still aim to maintain the psychosocial units in each camp. We will also continue to support the music project, which has done so much to help with recovery of Yazidis who suffered at the hands of ISIL. If anyone reading this would like to help please contact me or go to our website, which has a 'Donate' button.