SHARYA, Kurdistan Region – At a hall where trains of trucks bring in Yezidis stuck on an arid mountain for 10 days, some of the men, women and children are in such shock and exhaustion that they have to be coaxed into getting off the vehicles.
These are people in dire need of aid to help settle elsewhere until it is safe to return to homes they fled in Shingal and surrounding villages, after the town fell to Islamic State (IS/ISIS) 10 days ago.
“Where are the international organizations, where are the United Nations?” asked Khidher Domle, a respected journalist who now coordinates relief efforts for his fellow Yezidis in the village of Sharya, near Duhok.
At the Lalesh Hall 2 in Sharya where they first arrive, most are in a state of shock and exhaustion.
To get off the mountain and to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, many had to walk 10 to 12 hours, going first across the Syrian border and then back to the Iraqi side, where they were picked up by the trucks and brought to Sharya.
International and local aid organizations have been trying to help the thousands still stuck on the mountain without water and food, by dropping supplies from the air. Those who manage to reach safety still have a long wait after their long walk, to be then transported in trucks that are normally used to transport sand or grain.
The total numbers who escaped to the mountain are estimated at 50,000, or even higher.
“That terrible mountain,” Domle sighs, explaining that the people coming in now are from the southern flank, which stretches over some 25 kilometers.
At the northern side, some 35,000 Yezidis are still thought to be trapped, depending on food drops by foreign and local aid organizations.
Although the United States, Britain and France have been involved in aid drops or other relief, many of the supplies failed to reach their targets, according to refugees.
“I heard of a drop on one side of the mountain, while the refugees were on the other side and did not know it was so near,” Domle says.
Many of the refugees arriving in Sharya say they did not receive any of the aid drops.
In two days, the relief effort in Sharya received over 2,500 families, Domle informs.
At the center they receive aid and medical attention. Domle has nothing but praise for the local Barzani Foundation that has been providing the refugees with some 30,000 tasty meals a day. UN aid organization UNICIF also “does a good job,” he adds.
Water, baby milk and biscuits are also provided locally. Many Kurdish businessmen have donated generously to help the refugees, Domle says.
After arrival, the families are then sent to temporary shelters in schools, government institutions and building sites, while some stay with relatives or friends. Help is desperately needed, especially for this second phase, Domle says, explaining that refugees arrive with just the clothes they have worn for days.
“We need blankets, mattresses and everything needed for a household,” says Domle, as he points to an elderly man being carried into the hall yard by some of the younger men. It is the older refugees who are in worst shape; doctors in nearby Duhok have volunteered to provide help.
At the same time aid workers are calling for more medicines for chronic diseases, as many refugees left in such haste that they did not even grab their medication.
To help the thousands who are still stuck on the mountain, with just the leaves off trees for food and perhaps some water from small lakes, Domle suggests a change in policy is needed.
“Why not get planes in from Turkey; the Incirlik (air) base is only half an hour away. It could reach there safely without the threat of the Daash,” he says, using the local name for IS.
He also calls on the help of the few hundred Turkish soldiers already stationed in Iraqi Kurdistan, at a base half an hour from Duhok. “We need all the help we can get.”
That sentiment is echoed by Tarek Khidher Seido, a refugee from Shingal who found a roof over his head in an unfinished building in Sharya. Here, blankets and mattresses are spread out on the concrete floor; the building is still open to the elements on all sides.
For days, Seido says he defended his town against IS, making sure as many women and children as possible could leave to escape the militants, who have especially targeted non-Muslim minorities like Iraq’s Christians and Yezidis.
“I fought till the end, before joining the family in the mountains,” Seido recounts.
He says the main problem of men like him who had guns was a shortage of ammunition, and the fact that their call for support from the outside remained unanswered.
He wants to go back, now that his family is safe, and calls for the formation of a Yezidi militia to reclaim the areas captured by IS.
“We need weapons and ammunition to defend our people, and to get our city back.”