Tens of thousands of members of one of Iraq’s oldest minorities have been stranded on a mountain in the country’s north-west, facing slaughter at the hands of jihadists surrounding them below if they flee, or death by dehydration if they stay.
U.N. groups say at least 40,000 members of the Yazidi sect, many of them women and children, have taken refuge in nine locations on Mount Sinjar, a craggy mile-high ridge line identified in local legend as the final resting place of Noah’s ark.
At least 130,000 more people, many from the Yazidi stronghold of Sinjar, have fled to Dohuk, in the Kurdish north, or to Erbil, where regional authorities have been struggling since June to deal with one of the biggest and most rapid refugee movements in decades.
Sinjar itself has been all but emptied of its 300,000 residents since jihadists stormed the city late on Saturday — but an estimated 25,000 people remain. “We are being told to convert, or to lose our heads,” said Khuldoon Atyas, who has stayed behind to guard his family’s crops. At least 500 Yazidis, among them 40 children, have been killed in the past week, local officials say. Many more have received direct threats, either from the advancing militants, or members of nearby Sunni communities allied with them. “They were our neighbours and now they are our killers,” said Mr. Atyas.
Not a one-off incident “It’s not like this is a one-off incident,” said UNICEF spokeswoman Juliette Touma of the latest exodus. “We are almost back to square zero in terms of the preparedness and the supplies. Enormous numbers of people have been crossing the border since June.
“The stresses are enormous; dehydration, fatigue, people sometimes having to walk for days. The impact on kids is very physical, let alone the psychological impact.”
The Kurdish minority Yazidis have long been regarded as devil worshippers by Sunni jihadists who have targeted them since the U.S. invasion. As the extremists’ latest and most potent incarnation, the Islamic State, has steadily conquered Iraq’s north, the small, self-contained community has been especially vulnerable.
— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2014