After surviving Daesh, Yazidi women ask to go home

Yazidi women hold placards during a protest outside the United Nations office in Erbil on August 2, 2015 in support of women from their community who were kidnapped by Daesh militants. (AFP)
Updated 04 February 2019
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After surviving Daesh, Yazidi women ask to go home

  • In 2014, Daesh militants rampaged across swathes of Syria and neighboring Iraq
  • None perhaps have tales so harrowing as the Yazidi women

OMAR OIL FIELD: Among thousands fleeing the crumbling dream of a Daesh group “caliphate” in eastern Syria are alleged militants but also survivors of some of their worst atrocities.
“I’ll never forget,” 40-year-old Bissa says softly, as she recounts being “bought and sold” by six different militants.
“We did everything they wanted to do with us. We couldn’t say no,” says the Iraqi woman from the Yazidi religious minority, after fleeing her Daesh captors.
Bissa was one of at least seven Yazidi women and girls to finally escape captivity last week, after years as “sex slaves” at the hands of the extremist group.
Speaking to AFP in territory held by US-backed forces, the women — and at least one teenager abducted when she was 13 — say they just want to go home.
“They would sleep with us against our will,” Bissa said, wearing a dark red headscarf and appearing years beyond her age, her face and hands etched with lines.
More than 36,000 people have fled a crumbling Daesh holdout near the Iraqi border in recent weeks, among them 3,200 alleged militants.
But now in territory held by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), none perhaps have tales so harrowing as the Yazidi women.
In 2014, Daesh militants rampaged across swathes of Syria and neighboring Iraq — including the northern Iraqi region of Sinjar, home to a large Yazidi community.
The Kurdish-speaking Yazidis follow an ancient religion rooted in Zoroastrianism, but Daesh considers them to be “apostates.”
In Sinjar, Daesh fighters killed the men, forcefully enlisted boys as soldiers and kidnapped more than 6,000 women.
After Bissa was captured, she was “bought and sold” by six different militants — including three Saudis and a fighter who said he was Swedish.
She was repeatedly brutalized, but was too scared to escape.
“They said whoever tried ... would be punished by a different man sleeping with her every day,” she says inside an SDF center near the Omar oil field.
But 17-year-old Nadine, who militants kidnapped from Sinjar when she was just 13, says she twice tried to escape.
Both times the militant group’s police caught her.
“They flogged me with a hose. It left marks on my back, and I couldn’t sleep on it,” she says.
“The second time, they said I couldn’t eat for two days,” she added.
After they abducted Nadine, Daesh militants took her across the border to the group’s then de facto Syrian capital of Raqqa.
Over four years, she says, six different men bought her — Saudis and a Tunisian.
She had to adapt to their brutal interpretation of religion, and adhere to their strict dress code of covering from head to toe in public.
“I love color, and I used to wear trousers,” Nadine says.
Inside the SDF center, she wears a black-and-white bead bracelet around her wrist, bearing the name of her little brother in English.
But she can’t bring herself to remove her black face veil.
“I got used to it. I can’t yet take it off,” she says. “But I will do so when I see my mum.”
After escaping, Nadine says several cousins are still being held a Daesh pocket in eastern Syria.
At the height of its rule, Daesh controlled territory the size of Britain, but today it has lost all but an eastern patch to various offensives — including by the SDF, backed by air strikes of the US-led coalition.
Between 2015 and 2018, at least 129 Yazidi women and girls were handed over to the Kurdish Women’s Protection Units (YPJ), who are part of the SDF.
“We’re definitely... fighting Daesh to free more captives — and not just Yazidis,” YPJ spokeswoman Nasreen Abdallah said.
At the YPJ center, Sabha, 30, waited to take her 10-year-old daughter to hospital, after a kettle of boiling water fell on her legs.
Also a Yazidi woman, Sabha fled the last patch Daesh IS territory with her six children, after the man she was forced to marry was killed in an air strike.
Five of her children are from a first husband killed by Daesh after they overran Sinjar.
But her 18-month-old girl was fathered by a Kurdish militant from the Iraqi region of Kirkuk, who said he spent 15 years of his life in Britain.
Sebha says the militant beat her and threatened to kill her children if she disobeyed.
“All I could think of was how to get out,” says Sabha, wearing a green headscarf.
“I’d wish him dead so I could escape.”
Today, Sabha looks forward to going home to her family, she says.
“But what makes me most happy is that I saved my children.”


South Sudan opposition seeks 6-month extension on peace deal

Updated 4 min 32 sec ago
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South Sudan opposition seeks 6-month extension on peace deal

  • Opposition leader said the extension is necessary to adequate security arrangements
  • The deal stopped a 5-year civil war during which almost 400,000 people died

JUBA, South Sudan: South Sudan's opposition is calling for a six-month extension to implement next steps in a fragile peace deal as a major deadline approaches next month to form a power-sharing government between the president and his longtime rival.
Opposition deputy chairman Henry Odwar told The Associated Press on Saturday that the extension is needed because security arrangements are not yet adequate.
South Sudan's government rejects the idea of an extension, further raising concerns among observers that the peace agreement signed in September could fall apart. The deal ended five years of civil war that killed nearly 400,000 people and sent millions fleeing.
There could be a "constitutional vacuum" if opposition leader Riek Machar does not return to South Sudan as scheduled to form the transitional government that is meant to culminate in elections, government spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny said.
May 12 is the deadline for Machar to return and once again serve as President Salva Kiir's deputy, an arrangement that more than once has ended in gunfire. In a striking gesture meant to urge the rivals to finally make peace, Pope Francis knelt and kissed their feet during a meeting at the Vatican earlier this month.
The opposition has expressed "serious concerns" about the agreement. It would be a "recipe for disaster" if Machar returns without security measures in place, his wife, Angelina Teny, has said.
The committee charged with overseeing the peace deal's initial stages will consider the six-month extension request on Wednesday, according to the opposition. The committee is made up of members of the government and various opposition parties.
This latest peace deal has been marked by delays and continued fighting in parts of the country, with key aspects yet to be implemented. South Sudan's internal boundaries have not yet been drawn. A unified national army has not been formed.
Alan Boswell, senior analyst with the International Crisis Group, warned that the deal would "look very flimsy if Kiir unilaterally forms a new government without Machar."
South Sudanese are already wary of possible violence next month, said a recent report by the Community Empowerment for Progress Organization, a local advocacy group. Without clear messaging from the parties' leaders the risk of citizens "panicking is high," it said.