“I could build a house in Snune or someplace else, but we will not go to these places because here is the only safe place. Basically, we are afraid,” Ido Sharif, a Yezidi man building a home on the mountaintop, explained on Friday. Snune is a town just north of the mountain, in western Nineveh province.
About 2,000 families are originally from villages on Mount Shingal’s slopes and another 2,300 displaced families are still sheltering in tents on the mountain top. Both populations are building new houses on the mountain. About 200 houses have been built so far.
Local authorities are sympathetic to the situation.
“If the federal government, international community, or human rights groups do not reach out to these people in these villages or areas, they have to depend on themselves to build houses… They can build houses on their land or the land of their relatives – with the permission of the relative – temporarily. They will not be prevented from doing so,” said Shingal Mayor Fahad Hamid.
The majority of Yezidis displaced by the conflict have not returned home because of lack of reconstruction, basic services, and security.
Shingal lies in the disputed areas claimed by both the federal Iraqi government and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). Kurdish, Iraq, and local forces took part in various offenses to oust ISIS from the area. In October 2017, the KRG and Peshmerga withdrew from the disputed areas and the federal government took control. But a plethora of armed groups remain active in Shingal, vying for control, including Shiite militias of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) and groups aligned with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). ISIS sleeper cells also still constitute a threat.
The political and security uncertainty has prohibited large-scale reconstruction of war-damaged areas, living many Yezidis unable to return home.
Earlier this month, the Iraqi government distributed 650 tents to displaced families on the mountain, to a mixed reception. “If humanity is important for the Iraqi government and the international organizations, they have to know that the problems of a nation will not be fixed with a barrel of heating oil or a tent,” said Srhan Ato, a resident of a camp on Mount Shingal.
Reporting by Tahsin Qasim