‘Debilitating long-term injuries’ haunt Yazidi Children freed from IS

In this 2014 file photo, displaced Iraqis from the Yazidi community gather for humanitarian aid at a camp in Syria. (AP pic)

BAGHDAD: Nearly 2,000 Yazidi children freed from the grips of the Islamic State group in recent years are still trapped by psychological and physical trauma, Amnesty International warned on Thursday.

In a new report based on dozens of interviews in northern Iraq, the rights group found that 1,992 children who faced torture, forced conscription, rape and other abuses at the hands of IS were not getting the care they need.

“While the nightmare of their past has receded, hardships remain for these children,” said Matt Wells, deputy director of Amnesty’s crisis response team.

The Yazidis are an ethno-religious minority numbering around 550,000 in their heartland of northwest Iraq before IS swept through the rugged region in 2014.

Slamming the Yazidis as heretics, IS slaughtered thousands of men, abducted women and girls and forced boys to fight on its behalf.

Yazidi children were forcibly converted to Islam and taught Arabic, banned from speaking their native Kurdish.

To this day, child survivors suffer “debilitating long-term injuries”, as well as post-traumatic stress disorder, mood wings, aggression and flashbacks.

Yazidi children interviewed by AFP last year in a displacement camp in the northwest district of Duhok played aggressively, wore all black and spoke Arabic to each other, even months after they were freed from IS.

One of them, a ten-year-old girl, had threatened to commit suicide multiple times, her mother told AFP.

Sahir, a 15-year-old former IS child soldier, told Amnesty that he knew he needed mental support to cope with his trauma but felt he had nowhere to turn.

“What I was looking for is just someone to care about me, some support, to tell me, ‘I am here for you’,” he said.

“This is what I have been looking for, and I have never found it.”

Accept our children

Amnesty said access to education could help ease children back into society, but tens of thousands of Yazidis still live in displacement camps where schooling is irregular.

Many have also gone into debt from paying thousands of US dollars to smugglers to free Yazidi relatives who were held by IS.

Yazidi mothers forcibly wed to IS fighters are struggling to heal their own psychological scars, while dealing with the stigma of having children born to jihadist fathers.

“I want to tell (our community) and everyone in the world, please accept us, and accept our children … I didn’t want to have a baby from these people. I was forced to have a son,” said 22-year-old Janan.

Many Yazidi women who were rescued from IS’ last bastion in Syria over the last two years were forced to leave their IS-born children behind when they returned to their families in neighbouring Iraq.

“We have all thought about killing ourselves, or tried to do it,” said Hanan, a 24-year-old Yazidi whose daughter was taken from her.

Mothers must be reunited with their children and no further separation should take place, Amnesty said.

“These women were enslaved, tortured and subjected to sexual violence. They should not suffer any further punishment,” said Wells.