Last week I arrived back home to Iraqi Kurdistan, exhausted but proud of a small but real triumph over the Islamic State. Three women and two toddlers came back with me—five human beings just rescued from enslavement by ISIL. For over a year, they were abused, raped and traded fighter to fighter because of one reason: our Yazid religion. I am determined to save every last one of the more than 2,000 Yazidi women and girls still waiting to be freed.
They thought they were abandoned. Their ISIL captors told them that no one wanted them, in their shame and defilement, and that no one was looking for them. But I insist on reaching out to them through pleas on Arabic radio and TV. I give them my phone number, and tell them that we love them and we want them back. Some brave women hear these messages and contact us, and a rescue mission commences. I answer the phone every time, determined to do all that I can, but it is little, and it is not enough. I know there will always be another call, another Yazidi who is terrified and broken and in need of hope, as the world looks the other way.
One of the women, clutching her 2-year-old child, was so distraught. The child kept asking for her 7-year-old sister, who had been taken away from her mother and enrolled in a religious institution where she would be forced to convert to Islam. Her mother had had no choice but to escape without her, and she told me she feared the girl would be raped at the hands of the militants. We have evidence of the militants raping our girls as young as age 8.
For that brief time in August 2014, the United States launched airstrikes to halt the advance of ISIL after its troops took over a third of Iraq, saving the Yazidi people from total massacre by ISIL troops. But since then, we’ve been abandoned and forgotten by Washington and the rest of the international community. For every story of a girl who has been rescued, there’s another one about a girl who is still in captivity, where she is starved, raped, beaten and sold—often to “fellow” Iraqis. And 500,000 Yazidis, a full 90 percent of the indigenous Yazidi population, are in displaced persons’ camps, living in abject misery and isolation with less than minimal sustenance. We languish in these camps, live without income, and without food, medicine or even shelter durable enough to keep the rain out. As long as ISIL remains intent on wiping my people off the map; and as long as the Iraqi and Kurdish Regional governments continue to see Yazidis as less than second-class citizens, unworthy of significant aid and attention, these horrors will continue.