“Welcome to Iraq,” said the Yazidi Minister for Religious Affairs just after the lights went out in Kurdistan. We were at a meeting to discuss the fact that there are hundreds of children in need of medical care, some of them critical. We waited in silence for the power failure to end and the lights to come back on.
Later we visited a number of refugee camps set up to absorb the thousands of Yazidis fleeing from ISIS in August 2014. Sharya camp is situated just 25-30km from ISIS territory and holds almost 18,000 refugees. Health care is minimal and there is only one children’s hospital to serve the whole region. We met an 11 year old boy called Dhakil Khalef who has a compound fracture in his right leg, A metal fixator holds the bone together. He was in hospital having skin grafted from his thigh to cover the exposed bone and after 40 days in hospital he was discharged because they needed the bed. He returned to the camp where he and his family have been living for the past 18 months. He shares a tent with the rest of his family and sleeps on a mattress on the ground with just an old blanket to protect his wounds from the sun and the flies. Due to the unsanitary conditions he contracted an infection and the skin graft failed. He is currently taking an oral antibiotic which cannot possibly heal the wounds. Doctor Shirzad Khaleel who accompanied me to each of the camps says the child is in urgent need of treatment with broad spectrum antibiotics administered intravenously.
We were travelling with Breen Tahseen, son of Prince Tahseen Bek, spiritual leader of the Yazidi people worldwide. Breen is tireless in his quest to help save his people, once numbering in the millions, now reduced to around 750,000. He talks about the centuries of persecution and genocide against his people and how Saddam’s efforts to rid the world of Yazidis has been followed by attacks by Islamic State in Sinjar and the surrounding region.
[pullquote]Over two hundred thousand people were driven from their homes and thousands were slaughtered.[/pullquote]He told me that everyone knew that ISIS were coming to Sinjar but the Yazidis were abandoned by the army and the international community and left to their fate. Over two hundred thousand people were driven from their homes and thousands were slaughtered. Over 5,000 women and children were captured and the women and young girls were sold into sexual slavery. We visited five camps in the region and after meeting with minsters, religious leaders and many refugees, it’s very clear that the Yazidis are a gentle people who simply want to live in peace.
I cannot take away their fear of further attacks by ISIS, but I can try to prevent a child from losing his leg.
I’m appealing to the British Government to help him and hundreds of other children in urgent need of help. There are children whose parents were killed when ISIS invaded their homeland. Some are traumatized, others simply have no one to care for them. The children are extremely vulnerable and need a safe haven until they have a place to call home.
Sally Becker is a Director of Road to Peace, a registered British Charity helping to facilitate medical treatment for sick and injured children.
All photographs by GoToGround