On Aug. 3, 2014, ISIS militants swept into the Sinjar region of northern Iraq, home to the majority of the world's Yazidis. They rounded up the Yazidis into three groups: young boys who were to be indoctrinated as future fighters for ISIS, older males who were captured or killed, and women and children who were kidnapped and sold as slaves. Tens of thousands fled, many to Mount Sinjar, where the militants surrounded them in the scorching summer heat. The U.S., Iraq, Britain, France and Australia flew in water and other supplies and U.S, airstrikes kept ISIS at bay but many died before they could be rescued.
Young women and girls as young as nine were separated from their families and sold as sex slaves or “given” to the combatants, in all cases forced to convert to Islam. ISIS militants specifically targeted Yazidis because they know that by degrading these women the whole community is affected. “They wanted to eradicate us,” says Nadia Murad, a former prisoner of ISIS who has received the Nobel Prize for her efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict.
Searching for Sabir
Sabir was 15 days old when he and his family were kidnapped. They were taken to Talafar where they remained in captivity until the following year. As the Peshmerga began to close in, the militants escaped to Syria, taking some of the children with them. Those who were too young to be used as sex slaves or trained as fighters were given to local Turkmen families or sold for ransom.
On June 30th 2017, a group of Yazidi and Shia children were found in Mosul where they were being used as human shields. They were taken to the centre for unaccompanied children in Hamam al Alil where their images were posted online.
Sabir's family recognised him but by the time they arrived at the centre to claim him, he had disappeared. Following a long investigation we discovered that he and another little boy also believed to be Yazidi had been taken from the centre by a man who claimed to be their father. The man has refused to have a DNA test though so the investigation is ongoing.
The majority of those who are still missing are Yazidis, but there are also children from the Christian and Shia community. Some were sold to Turkmen families and given new identities while others were abandoned in state homes where no one knows who they are. We have done our best to try and find them but we are a small organisation and we don't have any regular funding. There needs to be a concerted effort by the Iraqi Government and the International Community in order to find these children and help to reunite them with their loved ones.
Some of the women and children have been rescued but their homes have been destroyed and in many cases their loved ones were captured or killed. Those who escaped have since found refuge in other countries but most have taken shelter in sprawling refugee camps in Northern Iraq where there are still hundreds of thousands of people in desperate need of help. These include many children who have been subjected to years of imprisonment and physical and psychological abuse by their captors. Healthcare is minimal and there is only one paediatric hospital in the whole of the region. Those organisations that are providing psychosocial care have had to bring in external consultants, however, it's difficult to recruit foreigners to work in the region so the number of skilled psychologists remains low.
Without their families to guide them and only a piece of damp canvas between themselves and the sky, these children represent an entire vulnerable, endangered generation in urgent need of help.
One family of seven orphaned children live in a tent 4 by 4 metres square.