Eighteen Yazidi children have been reunited with their families, more than four years after they were kidnapped by the Islamic State armed group in Iraq’s northern Sinjar region.
The 18 children, aged 10 to 15 yeras, crossed into Iraq from Syria and met their families in Iraq on the road between Sinjar and Dohuk on 2 March.
Few parents were able to meet their children as some are still missing or have been killed. Others have moved to Western countries seeking asylum.
“The children are traumatised and most of them were raised by Islamic State families. We assume that they were brainwashed,” explains Tom Peyre-Costa, the spokesperson of the Norwegian Refugee Council in Iraq.
“The first support they will get will be from their families, of course. But they will need years of psychosocial support as well to allow them to reconnect with their childhood. And to reintegrate within their communities.”
Children in need of support
The NRC’s Education team is providing psychosocial support to the displaced Yazidi children. It is one of the programmes NRC delivers to displaced children and youth, affected by stress from living in war and conflict.
The Islamic State considers the Yazidi religious minority to be heretics. After years of being brainwashed by IS, some children struggle to find their place within the Yazidi community.
And there are reported cases of boys communicating with IS a year after they returned or even refusing to leave IS.
“Some children were actually very young when they were kidnapped. Some of them totally embraced the Islamic State’s ideology. This make reintegration even more difficult,” says Peyre-Costa.
In Yazidi camps around Dohuk, NRC’s psychosocial support to the children involves a number of activities to enable them to reconnect with their friends and people around them. The activities range from improving the learning abilities of traumatised children to singing, sports or drawing.
No home to return to
In August 2014, IS attacks on Sinjar and the Yazidis were so violent – including rape, killings, abduction, enslavement – that the United Nations later decribed it as a genocide.
An international coalition managed to drive out IS from Sinjar region from November 2015. But, unlike elsewhere in Iraq, reconstruction in Sinjar, home to the Yazidis, has not started yet.
“The way home will still be very long for Yazidis because most of them are still living in displacement camps, far from home. They are simply unable to return because there is no home to return to,” declares Peyre-Costa.
“Sinjar, their home town is heavily damaged. There is no water, no electricity. The hospitals have been destroyed. There are only two schools opened. Most of the old city is [a pile of] rubble, laced with unexploded bombs. That makes their return impossible.”
More than 3 thousand Yazidis are still missing. NRC believe a number of them might still be held in Baghouz, IS’s last enclave in Syria, and used as human shields along with other civilians.
Follow Tom Peyre-Costa on Twitter @Tom_Peyre_Costa
Follow Zeenat Hansrod on Twitter @zxnt