Agenda: We must act to reunite Yezidi women and their children


By Nicolette Waldman

IT has been 489 long days since Hanan last saw her daughter.

When the Islamic State (IS) attacked her Yezidi community in northern Iraq in August 2014, Hanan was 17, studying for final school exams. Hanan and her family were captured by IS as they fled on foot, carrying their belongings.

In the years that followed, the Yezidi community was subjected to what the UN has called a genocide. Yezidi men were summarily killed. Women and girls were subjected to sexual violence, including sexual slavery, and other crimes under international law. Boys were indoctrinated and forced to fight for IS.

I spoke to Hanan – and other Yezidi women forcibly separated from their children born of sexual violence – for an Amnesty International report, Legacy of Terror: The Plight of Yezidi Child Survivors of ISIS.

During captivity, Hanan was repeatedly raped by the IS fighter who took her as a “slave”, and gave birth to her daughter, Fadia. Hanan suffered four years of violence, starvation, and fear. It was Fadia’s love that kept her alive.

She told me: “Whenever I was crying, she would tell me to keep my cries inside my heart, and this kept me stronger. Fadia was amazing.”

When Hanan finally reached refugee a camp in Syria, she did not identify herself as Yezidi for fear of being forced to abandon Fadia. She knew the reality: children born to Yezidi women as a result of sexual violence have largely been denied a place in their mothers’ community, due to religious and societal pressures. Some Yezidi women willingly separated from their children, many remain anonymous in refugee camps, others stayed with their IS captors, to avoid being separated from their children. Others have been forcibly separated from their children.

Hanan was identified as Yezidi, dragged to camp authorities and sent to a “safe house”. Her family pressured her to leave Fadia in an orphanage, on what they assured her was a short-term basis, telling her she could visit whenever she liked while arrangements were made to bring Fadia to Iraq.

When Hanan left the orphanage, she told staff: “Don’t give my daughter to anyone. I will come back every week, every month – this is temporary!”

But when she reunited with her uncle in Iraq, he told her: “Forget your daughter.”

Since then, Hanan has been cut off from Fadia and has had no updates for months.

Hanan is not alone. Other heartbroken mothers told me their situation is unbearable. Several women have attempted suicide.

Hanan explained: “We don’t sleep. We call each other very late at night, and we cry for each other. We wish we were dead or anywhere else, not slowly dying every day as we are now.”

The international community and national authorities must urgently act to reunite Yezidi women with their children born of sexual violence, when that is their preference, and prioritise relocation to countries where they can live together in safety. As Hanan told me: “We cannot stand it anymore. Our children are a part of us. We are human, we have our rights, and we want our children to be with us… I need my daughter. Whatever we experienced with IS, we are going through something worse now. We need a solution.”

*Hanan’s and Fadia’s names have been changed to protect their identities.

The author is a researcher with the Crisis Response Programme at Amnesty International

The article was first published here: https://www.heraldscotland.com/news/18642572.agenda-must-act-reunite-yezidi-women-children/