For Yazidi survivors of Daesh killings, the nightmares go on

A Yazidi woman holds her baby at a refugee camp in Mount Sinjar, Iraq February 4, 2019. Picture taken February 4, 2019. REUTERS/Khalid al-Mousily
Updated 19 February 2019

For Yazidi survivors of Daesh killings, the nightmares go on

  • More than 3,000 other members of their minority sect were killed in 2014 in an onslaught that the United Nations described as genocidal
  • More than four years later, some 2,500 families still live in the tents that are scattered along the hills that weave their way toward the summit

SINJAR, Iraq: Ever since Daesh visited death and destruction on their villages in northern Iraq nearly five years ago, Yazidis Daoud Ibrahim and Kocher Hassan have had trouble sleeping.
For Hassan, 39, who was captured, it is her three missing children, and three years of imprisonment at the hands of the extremist group.
For Ibrahim, 42, who escaped, it is the mass grave that he returned to find on his ravaged land.
“They burnt one house down, blew up the other, they torched the olive trees two three times...There is nothing left,” the father of eight told Reuters.
More than 3,000 other members of their minority sect were killed in 2014 in an onslaught that the United Nations described as genocidal.
Ibrahim and Hassan lived to tell of their suffering, but like other survivors, they have not moved on.
She will never set foot in her village of Rambousi again. “My sons built that house. I can’t go back without them...Their school books are still there, their clothes,” she said.
’They want to be buried’
As US President Donald Trump prepares to announce the demise of the extremist group in Syria and Iraq, UN data suggests many of those it displaced in the latter country have, like Hassan, not returned home.
Meanwhile, Ibrahim and his family live in a barn next to the pile of rubble that was once their home. He grows wheat because the olive trees will need years to grow again. No one is helping him rebuild, so he is doing it himself, brick by brick.
“Life is bad. There is no aid,” he said sitting on the edge of the collapsed roof which he frequently rummages under to find lost belongings. On this day, it was scarves, baby clothes and a photo album.
“Every day that I see this mass grave I get ten more grey hairs,” he said.
The grave, discovered in 2015 just outside nearby Sinjar city, contains the remains of more than 70 elderly women from the village of Kocho, residents say.
“I hear the cries of their spirits at the end of the night. They want to be buried, but the government won’t remove their remains.” They and their kin also want justice, Ibrahim adds.
When the militants came, thousands of Yazidis fled on foot toward Sinjar mountain. More than four years later, some 2,500 families — including Hassan and five of her daughters — still live in the tents that are scattered along the hills that weave their way toward the summit.
The grass is green on the meadows where children run after sheep and the women pick wild herbs.
But the peaceful setting masks deep-seated fears about the past and the future.
Grateful for the sun
Until a year and a half ago, Hassan and five of her children were kept in an underground prison in Raqqa with little food and in constant fear of torture.
She doesn’t know why Islamic State freed her and the girls, then aged one to six, and hasn’t learnt the fate of the three remaining children: two boys Fares and Firas, who would be 23 and 19 now, and Aveen, a girl who would be 13.
There is no electricity or running water in the camp where they live today. She doesn’t remember when her children last ate fruit. “Life here is very difficult but I thank God that we are able to see the sun,” she said.
During the day, her children go to school and are happy, but at night “they are afraid of their own shadow,” and she herself has nightmares.
“Last night, I dreamt they were slaughtering my child,” she said.
Mahmoud Khalaf, her husband, says Islamic State not only destroyed their livelihoods. The group broke the trust between Yazidis and the communities of different faiths and ethnicities they had long lived alongside.
“There is no protection. Those who killed us and held us captive and tormented us have returned to their villages,” Khalaf, 40, said referring to the neighboring Sunni Arab villages who the Yazidis say conspired with the militants.
“We have no choice but to stay here...They are stronger than us.”


Enduring miseries drive exodus of Tunisian youth

Updated 18 October 2019

Enduring miseries drive exodus of Tunisian youth

  • Despite vote for change in the country, there seems to be no end of frustration among young people

SFAX/TUNISIA: It only took 10 minutes for Fakher Hmidi to slip out of his house, past the cafes where unemployed men spend their days, and reach the creek through the mud flats where a small boat would ferry him to the migrant ship heading from Tunisia to Italy.

He left late at night, and the first his parents knew of it was the panicked, crying phone call from an Italian mobile number: “The boat is sinking. We’re in danger. Ask mum to forgive me.”

Hmidi, 18, was one of several people from his Thina district of the eastern city of Sfax among the dozens still unaccounted for in this month’s capsizing off the Italian island of Lampedusa, as ever more Tunisians join the migrant trail to Europe.

His loss, and the continued desire among many young men in Thina to make the same dangerous journey, vividly demonstrate the economic frustration that also drove voters to reject Tunisia’s political elite in recent elections.

In a parliamentary vote on Oct. 6, the day before Hmidi’s boat sank just short of the Italian coast, no party won even a quarter of seats and many independents were elected instead. On Sunday, the political outsider Kais Saied was elected president.

In the Hmidis’ modest home, whose purchase was subsidized by the government and on which the family is struggling to meet the repayment schedule, his parents sit torn with grief.

“Young people here are so frustrated. There are no jobs. They have nothing to do but sit in cafes and drink coffee or buy drugs,” said Fakher’s father, Mokhtar, 55.

Mokhtar lost his job as a driver two years ago and has not been able to find work since. Fakher’s mother, Zakia, sells brik, a fried Tunisian egg snack, to bring in a little extra money. His two elder sisters, Sondes, 29, and Nahed, 24, work in a clothes shop.

Much of the little they had went to Fakher, the family said, because they knew he was tempted by the idea of going to Europe. At night the family would sit on their roof and see the smuggler boats setting off. The seashore was “like a bus station,” they said.

 

Decline

At a cafe near the Hmidis’ home, a few dozen mostly young men sat at tables, drinking strong coffee and smoking cigarettes.

Mongi Krim, 27, said he would take the next boat to Europe if he could find enough money to pay for the trip even though, he said, he has lost friends at sea.

A survey by the Arab Barometer, a research network, said a third of all Tunisians, and more than half of young people, were considering emigrating, up by 50 percent since the 2011 revolution.

The aid agency Mercy Corps said last year that a new surge of migration from Tunisia began in 2017, a time when the economy was dipping.

Krim is unemployed but occasionally finds a day or week of work as a casual laborer. He points at the potholes on the road and says even town infrastructure has declined.

For this and the lack of jobs, he blames the government. He did not vote in either the parliamentary or the presidential election. “Why would I? It is all the same. There is no change,” he said.

Unemployment is higher among young people than anyone else in Tunisia. In the first round of the presidential election on Sept. 15, and in the parliamentary election, in which voter turnout was low, they also abstained by the highest margin.

When an apparently anti-establishment candidate, Kais Saied, went through to the second round of the presidential election on Sunday, young people backed him overwhelmingly.

But their support for a candidate touting a clear break from normal post-revolutionary politics only underscored their frustration at the direction Tunisia took under past leaders.

At the table next to Krim, Haddaj Fethi, 32, showed the inky finger that proved he had voted on Sunday. “I cannot imagine a young man who would not have voted for Saied,” he said.

On the bare patch of mud by the creek where Fakher Hmidi took the boat, some boys were playing. For them, the migration to Europe is — as it was for Hmidi — a constant background possibility in a country that offers them few other paths.

SPEEDREAD

The continued desire among many young men in Thina to make the dangerous journey, vividly demonstrate the economic frustration that also drove voters to reject Tunisia’s political elite in recent elections.

At the time of Tunisia’s 2011 revolution, they had great hope, Mohkhtar Hmidi said. But economically, things got worse. Fakher found little hope in politics, he said.

Despite the apparent surge of young support for Saied as president, he has been careful to make no promises about what Tunisia’s future holds, only to pledge his personal probity and insist that he will rigidly uphold the law.

The economy is in any case not the president’s responsibility, but that of a government formed by parties in the Parliament, whose fractured nature will make coalition building particularly difficult this year.

Any government that does emerge will face the same dilemmas as its predecessors — tackling high unemployment, high inflation, a lower dinar and the competing demands of powerful unions and foreign lenders.

An improvement would come too late for the Hmidi family, still waiting nearly two weeks later for confirmation that their only son has drowned.

“Fakher told me he wanted to go to France. ‘This is my dream,’ he said to me. ‘There is no future here. You can’t find a job. How can I?’,” Mokhtar said, and his wife started to cry.