Dr. Nemam Ghafouri embraces two Yezidis who have been displaced since August 2014. Photos by author
DUHOK, Kurdistan Region — Almost four years after the genocidal onslaught against them in Shingal, tyrannized and displaced Yezidis in the Kurdistan Region remain in camps where chronic shortages of medicine and other necessities have been mounting in recent months.
Dr. Nemam Ghafouri heads the Joint Help for Kurdistan non-governmental organization (NGO) which maintains a clinic at the Bajed Kandala 2 camp in Duhok. The staff at the camp's clinic has essentially dedicated their lives over the past four years, often going without basic salaries for months on end in order to keep the clinic open. They rely on donations from around the world to sustain their endeavour as well as volunteers – many of whom have taught the camp's children and adolescents basic English and other subjects.
At present, however, the camp is facing an unprecedented lack of funding and medicine in the camp's clinic. Dr. Ghafouri explained that in her camp there is only a one-month supply of some medicines and as little as one week of others. She owes a tab of $10,000 for medicine bought for the camp at a pharmacy in Zakho.
"The situation has never been this bad before," Ghafouri told Rudaw English. "It began getting this bad last fall since volunteers could not come because of the flight ban. Almost no donations have been coming in also."
Many Yezidis still live in what were supposed to be temporary emergency tents set-up in the immediate aftermath of the August 2014 atrocity. These tents have proven flammable, and also extremely vulnerable to poor weather conditions such as heavy rain. Just this month Bajed Kandala suffered a flood and the clinics already dwindling resources were further strained dealing with a subsequent influx of patients.
Adam Bott, one of the foreign volunteers who teaches English at the camp every summer, lamented, in a recent Facebook post, that this incident was "not some 'natural disaster' but a predictable consequence of the systematic neglect of Yezidi IDPs, still stuck in emergency tent camps with minimal infrastructure after four years, by the same governments and international organizations always ready to exploit them for propaganda."
Dr. Ghafouri also outlined how Baghdad is making the enormous task many NGOs face even more difficult through its policies.
"The Iraqi government has been making NGOs in Kurdistan register through Baghdad since the independence referendum last September," she explained. "Baghdad also wants all the funds for NGOs to go through Baghdad and Mosul. Many NGOs are leaving as a result."
Ghafouri also said that Baghdad is making life unnecessarily difficult for Yezidis in other ways, pointing out that many Yezidi women are being referred to hospitals in Mosul and Tal Afar for their medical treatment. This has proven an extremely traumatizing experience for them since most of them suffered unmentionable afflictions in Islamic State (ISIS) captivity in those areas. Consequently, when they return they suffer from "flashbacks" of those horrific experiences.
When Iraq seized the Shingal region from the Kurdistan Regional Government in October 2017, the situation for the lot of the Yezidis there – many of whom had just begun returning there last summer – has even deteriorated.
"Under Iraqi control, Shingal's health system is very poor," Ghafouri explained. "The average price for checkup for Yezidis there is 3,000 Iraqi dinars – compared to the Kurdistan Region's average of 500 IQD."
And, as she points out, that 2,500 IQD difference can make or break many of these desperate and destitute Yezidis.
Ghafouri's has also set-up a GoFundMe page for a new generator, which costs $12,000 [just under $2,000 has been raised in the last four months], to provide the clinic with round the clock electricity for its lab machines, lights, water, and air conditioning for the 6,000 people who depend upon it.
Despite the hardships and the bleak circumstances, Ghafouri and her team have striven to maintain morale. They established a girls’ football team — complete with jerseys — that have competed with teams from other camps and other sports clubs in the Kurdistan Region. Last year at a meeting with a health official in Duhok, representatives from camps across the region informed him of the dire straits their residents were in. Dr. Ghafouri opted instead to highlight the foundation of the camp's football team, pointing out it has given the children something positive and productive to focus their energies and time on. That was the only bit of positive news the official took away from that meeting.
More recently – on April 18, this year's Yezidi New Year, also known as Red Wednesday – Bajed Kandala's children gathered at the clinic courtyard to colourfully decorate eggs as per tradition and celebrate other festivities to mark the occasion. Other residents of the camp were able to travel to Lalish where thousands of Yezidis from across the region gathered together to celebrate their new year at holy place.
While the situation generally remains bleak Dr. Ghafouri and her team continue to creative and admirable efforts to sustain morale.