Aveen, 20  from Tal Azer village in Sinjar 

When ISL attacked our village we run away to Sinjar mountain we stayed in the mountain for 8 days. Many children and elder have died in the mountain from thirsty and hanger” said Avin who is now back to Sinjar after staying in unfinished building in Duhok for 2 years.

Aveen have lost two years of the school in Duhok because she could not afford it.
Read caption Aveen, 20, and her family fled when IS group took control of the Iraqi city of Sinjar on 3 August 2014. After years in displacement, they are among around 6,000 families who have finally returned home. Photo: Alan Ayoubi/NRC

Close to 200,000 Yazidis remain displaced

Tom Peyre-Costa and Thale Jenssen |Published 13. Nov 2018
IRAQ/Sinjar: "When the Islamic State group attacked our village, we fled. We stayed on Sinjar mountain for eight days. I saw children and older people die from thirst and exhaustion."

Aveen, 20, and her family fled when IS group took control of the Iraqi city of Sinjar on 3 August 2014. After years in displacement, they are among around 6,000 families who have finally returned home.

Three years have passed since the Iraqi government regained control of the city. Still, more than 200,000 people remain displaced in northern Iraq and abroad, with no homes to return to. Most of them belong to the Yazidi religious minority.

Home, but not living

For two years, Aveen’s family lived in an unfinished building in Dohuk, about 150 kilometres further north. Now they are back home, but life is nothing like it used to be.

"We are home, but we are not actually living, there is nothing here," she says. "We don’t have water, schools or hospitals. Pregnant women have died because of a lack of maternity healthcare."

Read caption Three years have passed since the Iraqi government regained control of Sinjar, which today looks like a ghost town. Still, more than 200,000 people remain displaced in northern Iraq and abroad, with no homes to return to. Photo: Tom Peyre-Costa/NRC


Ghost town

Around 70 per cent of buildings in Sinjar were damaged or destroyed during the operations to retake the city. Today, it’s a ghost town. Those who decided to come back live in dire conditions, with the feeling of being left aside.

"Streets are empty, you barely see anyone. Hundreds of thousands of Yazidis are still displaced across the country and cannot come back because of security issues and lack of basic services such as water and electricity. There is an urgent need to rebuild schools and hospitals, otherwise this place is going to stay empty," says the Norwegian Refugee Council's (NRC) media coordinator in Iraq, Tom Peyre-Costa.

Hundreds of thousands of Yazidis now live in displacement camps scattered across Iraq's northern Kurdistan region. In Bajid Kandela camp, white tents stand in long neat lanes, flanked by abandoned cars.

Base Khalaf, 60 years old, has been displaced with her family in this camp in Dohuk for 4 years now.

"Islamic State killed one of my sons four years ago. Since then I was unable to visit his grave. It is very hard to go back to Sinjar.  The situation is not safe and the journey is very long," she says.

"Our life in the camp is difficult. There is little water and electricity. The tents are dirty, made of nylon, and easy to burn especially in the summertime. In the summer, many tents get burned and for an elderly and disabled person, it’s not easy to run.  People have died because of this recently.

Winter is coming now and so is the rain, the cold and the wind. These tents will barely protect us. I wish I could go back home, but I just can't".

Photo: Tom Peyre-Costa/NRC
Read caption "Islamic State killed one of my sons four years ago. I’ve still not been able to visit his grave," says Base Khalaf, 60. She has lived in a displacement camp for the past four years and is unable to go back to Sinjar. Photo: Tom Peyre-Costa/NRC


Hundreds of thousands still displaced

Hundreds of thousands of Yazidis now live in displacement camps scattered across Iraq's northern Kurdistan region. In Bajid Kandela camp, white tents stand in long neat lanes, flanked by abandoned cars.

Base Khalaf, 60, has lived here for four years now.

"Islamic State killed one of my sons four years ago. I’ve still not been able to visit his grave. It’s difficult to go back to Sinjar – it’s not safe and the journey is very long," she says.

Life in the camp is hard. There is little water and electricity. "Now, winter is approaching," she says, "and so is the rain, the cold and the wind. These tents will barely protect us. I wish I could go back home, but I can't."

No reconstruction

While the plight of Yazidi victims was highlighted last month through the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to Yazidi survivor Nadia Murad, the city of Sinjar remains largely uninhabitable. Elsewhere in Iraq reconstruction is slowly happening, but in Sinjar it never started. Meanwhile, Sunni Arab neighbours are afraid to return, fearing reprisals from community members or local security forces.

"Everywhere in the town reminds me of the day when IS came," says Aveen."Yet no one cares, no one asks how we are, or if we need anything."

Thousands of Yazidi children need psychological support. NRC education programmes help them in camps around Dohuk to deal with their trauma and psychological distress through educational and recreational activities.

Photo: Tom Peyre-Costa/NRC
Read caption Thousands of Yazidi children need psychological support. Through our education programmes in camps around the northern city of Dohuk, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) helps them dealing with their trauma and psychological distress through educational and recreational activities. Photo: Tom Peyre-Costa/NRC


Our work 

NRC is present both in the city of Sinjar and in displacement camps around Dohuk. In the camps, we support Yazidi children to deal with trauma and psychological distress through educational and recreational activities.

In camps and in Sinjar, we support families in retrieving essential documentation such as identity cards and property deeds, which are essential for them to be able to rebuild their homes. We support youth with vocational skills training to strengthen their chances of finding a job.

Through our community centre in Sinjar, we facilitate and coordinate a comprehensive humanitarian response between partner organisations and communities, to ensure that urgent needs are met.

"What we do in Sinjar is a good start, but it is far from being enough. Yazidis must not be forgotten. It is time for the international community to understand the extent of the needs. They must invest as much in the reconstruction of Sinjar as they did in the military operations against IS group," says Peyre-Costa.