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Amidst the pandemic, displaced Yazidis return home

Amidst the pandemic, displaced Yazidis return home

Hundreds of Yazidi families are returning to Sinjar, with life on the outside becoming untenable due to the pandemic.

Six years since the Islamic State killed, captured and drove out Yazidis from their hometown of Sinjar, some families are making their return. But Sinjar, which suffered greatly in the occupation by IS and later during its liberation by other groups, is yet to be rebuilt. So, while hundreds of families are making their way back, forced by the pandemic, the town is nowhere close to being habitable.

Their lives in exile has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting lockdown measures. Many have lost their jobs and aid from donors is drying. In Sharya, where thousands of them are living in makeshift camps, young men who used to eke out a living in restaurants and factories can no longer find jobs. Iraq’s oil revenues have been plummeting since the start of the pandemic, worsening the economic crisis.

Under pressure from these circumstances, they have no choice but to return home even though it is not in a livable state. Water is hard to come by and the power supply is unreliable. Yazidi leaders have been seeking funds from the central government for rebuilding efforts but these haven’t come through. However, families have decided they can’t wait for these.

They are banking on the promise of some local aid organisations to support them on their return. Many families have sons enrolled in the armed forces stationed in Sinjar who they haven’t seen for weeks. For now, the tribal leaders and the sheikhs are moving as the vanguard with their tribes and communities to follow soon.

Amidst all this, the selling and buying back of kidnapped Yazidis continues among extremist groups. While IS may have been militarily vanquished, thousands of Yazidis are still missing and have become a source of income for non-IS-affiliated groups with the help of Arab tribes in Iraq and Syria. These missing people are quietly being forgotten with declining international interest.

There is also a new, but old, existential threat of Turkey. While Yazidis have traditionally been persecuted by the Ottomans, today they are indirectly being affected by Turkish interventions in Northern Iraq targeting the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

Turkish airstrikes in Sinjar have also targetted Sinjar Resistance Units which were formed with the help of PKK to defend the Yazidis. Turkey fears these units can potentially become a future threat as an extension of the PKK.

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