Two and a half years after ISIS attacked Shingal, more than 75 percent of Yezidis remain displaced. Here Yezidi families are pictured fleeing Shingal in 2014. Photo: AFP
DUHOK, Kurdistan Region – Large numbers of Yezidis moving abroad, seeking safety after ISIS committed genocide against them, have sparked concern among some community leaders. In a single Yezidi village alone, it is estimated that nearly 60 percent of the population have fled, emigrating to European countries.
“Since the start of the war against ISIS, more than 60 percent of the population of our village has emigrated to Europe, most of them accompanied by their families,” Haysam Hassan, an Isean villager and teacher, told Rudaw.
Prior to the war on ISIS, the population at Isean village was nearly 600 families. More than half of the population has now left the village.
Isean is near the town of Shekhan, a predominantly Yezidi district southeast of Duhok. The village did not come under direct threat when ISIS attacked northern Iraq and the Kurdistan Region. It is now housing internally displaced persons (IDPs) from the Shingal region.
“Many of the IDPs from Shingal and its surroundings have turned to the village as most of the villagers have emigrated. The number of the IDPs living in the village is currently higher than the number of indigenous villagers,” Hassan said.
Some of have left, assisted by the UN or other organizations. Others have joined the refugees fleeing to Europe, the US, and Australia.
“Most of those remaining have registered and had interviews with the UN. Some of them emigrate next month, some in the coming months. The percentage of people emigrating from this village will in the next three months reach 80 percent if those who have had interviews leave too,” Hassan detailed.
“This is a disaster. Hence, relevant parties should respond to this and prevent Yezidis from emigrating.”
For those choosing to leave, their reasons for doing so are many.
“There is no employment. The fear of ISIS war and the abduction of Yezidi Kurds by ISIS still linger in the hearts and minds of the Yezidis. Emigration, however, is not a solution,” Shekh Elyas Qadir, headman of the village, said.
Prior to the ISIS attack on Shingal and its surroundings, there were nearly 550,000 Yezidis living in the Kurdistan Region. More than 75 percent of them are currently displaced, living in camps in the province of Duhok.
Murad Khalaf is a 35-year-old resident from Shingal. He has four children and lives in Sharya camp in the province of Duhok.
“We had eyes on the recapture of Shingal, where we cannot return after more than a year from its liberation. We are still afraid. There are big political problems there. Every party wants to rule Shingal. Our future is unclear. That is why people are forced to emigrate,” Khalaf said.
“I will leave Kurdistan if I can emigrate,” he added.
Many Yezidi victims of the ISIS genocide have gone abroad seeking health care and counseling because of lack of necessary services and resources in the Kurdistan Region.
“Emigration is not a solution. The Yezidi religion will be in danger of extinction if situations continue this way, as all Yezidi sacred places are in the Kurdistan Region,” said Amin Khalat, a Yezidi activist.
The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), at the moment, has only unofficial statistics for Yezidi emigration.
“The emigration of the Yezidis is still ongoing, so we cannot produce accurate statistics. Yezidis emigrate daily. According to the unofficial figures we have, 70,000 Yezidi Kurds have so far emigrated,” said Hadi Dubani, director of Yezidi affairs at the KRG’s ministry of religious affairs.