Dr. Mirza Dinnayi. Photo: courtesy of AUIS
Two years after militants of the Islamic State (ISIS) kidnapped over 6,000 Yezidis from their towns and villages in the Shingal region, the chance to get them back is diminishing fast, says Yezidi activist and medical doctor Mirza Dinnayi. In the past two years around 3,000 people were rescued from the extremist group, but recently the number has declined. Some of the captives are so damaged and indoctrinated that they no longer think escape is possible, while rescuing missions in general have become too difficult and too expensive for many families to afford. Dinnayi who has helped many Yezidi victims reach Germany for treatment, says that as it becomes almost impossible to rescue more captives, his focus is on getting former ISIS victims, especially women and young girls out of refugee camps to Europe where they could recover and start a normal life again.
Rudaw: How many people are still captive in ISIS (Daesh) territories? Both 3,200 and 3,700 figures have been mentioned?
The correct figure is about 3,700 and the difference between the figures is the men, the rest are women and children.
What should be done to get them out?
I am afraid it is too late. I think most of the men could be dead. When in April 2015 we had the option to rescue 3,500 of them from Talafar, neither the Iraqis, Kurdish nor the allied forces did anything even though they knew their situation there. There was a possibility to make a quick attack because the distance with the Peshmerga troops was no more than ten kilometers. You could release them within days. I do not know why they did not do anything. ISIS, after this, divided all the people. We do not know what happened to the 500 men since then. There were some reports that they were killed. And ISIS separated the women from the children and distributed the women all over their territories. Now it is very difficult to get them back.
In the past some 2,600 people were able to escape one way or another. Did that stop?
In the past our girls escaped and through smuggling networks were brought out. That was not expensive as you only had to pay these people. But escape is no longer possible. The girls are now completely destroyed psychologically. Most have been told that all Yezidis were killed or Islamized. They are brainwashed, and cannot escape. Also, ISIS has in the last year established special Sharia Courts to register all slaves under the name of their owners. So if a girl escapes, any checkpoint would know who to return her to.
The only way is to pay ISIS and that is now very expensive. The smugglers are asking money because it is a dangerous job now, and next to that you pay the ISIS fighter. He does not know that he is selling the woman to the outside, because it is forbidden, he thinks he sells her to another fighter. Three weeks ago I met a girl who was liberated this way. Her brother paid $22,000 for her. $12,000 to the ISIS fighter, about $3,000 to a middleman and $7,000 to the smuggler. He had borrowed the money from his neighbors, who are also living in the camp and are also poor.
Now the number of girls being bought back is very small, as money is the main problem. People cannot pay, and the government is not paying. The special office for Yezidi Affairs is treating people badly. I heard from the families of survivors that they are told there to negotiate about the price, even if they say they cannot. And even though the regulations are different, the office will only pay back afterwards. So the people have to find the money first themselves.
The only other way is to swap them for fighters. The PKK did it two or three times, and with every fighter exchanged they got back 30 to 50 girls.
How many girls or women were found in the towns that were liberated from ISIS?
Hardly any. Just a few from Falluja. That means ISIS takes them when they move, as they have become a commodity. Just like if you have gold, and there is a war, you take it. They do not leave the girls behind, who are in the main cities, and not in the villages.
You have organized, with KRG and your organization Luftbrücke Irak (Air bridge Iraq) the operation that brought girls and women who were saved from ISIS for treatment to Germany. Will this program be extended for more victims?
We transferred 1,100 victims, and would support the most vulnerable who want to leave, especially the victims of ISIS staying in the camps. We now have 1,643 of these survivors in Iraq, who are staying in tents, with all their traumas. Nobody takes care of them, although we have some NGOs trying to. I respect that, but it is not enough. Imagine a girl, woman or child, who lost everything and has been more than a year with ISIS, and with such bad experiences now lives in a tent. She is taken to a psychotherapist for 20 to 25 minute sessions and then sent back, and given some drugs to keep her clam… That is not a solution. A girl like that has no social or economic existence, no family left, and you try to solve her problems with drugs – that, by the way, she has to even buy herself?
Are you planning to get them out of Iraq for treatment?
Yes, I am working to find a way to get at least 90 percent of them out. I recognize what the NGO are trying to do, but I am not convinced that this will help them. Even so, they will not be happy outside either, as they have a lot of problems not related to migration. But I see our girls and women when they come over for a holiday, and then they cannot even stay here for the whole period, as here they have no existence, no health service…
How are the victims coping in Germany?
Till now we have seen nine or ten marriages of victims who went outside. About 60 percent of the group were children, and they go to school. All young girls are visiting the schools, some are trying to study, but many had little education. Their mothers are happy to see that, but it is not easy for them after what they have lost. Not easy, but much better than it would be here.
Will these victims ever be able to live a normal life again?
Our duty is to help them to live with their pain. But life will never be normal for them. The only hope is for their children: they will recover. The women feel stronger now, but normal it will never be for them again.