Tragedy of Yazidis: Challenges and Directions of International Relief Aid in Kurdistan

Yazidi refugees; Pic - BBC

Yazidi refugees; Pic – BBC

By Dr Amir Sharifi:

We still remember the ubiquitously ghastly images of tens of thousands of tired, traumatized, sunburned, bedraggled, de-hydrated, and beaten Yazidi refugees. The images are too haunting to forget: a mother still clinging to her dead child, tears streaming down the cheeks of a young daughter, a woman telling the shocking tale of three of her daughters jumping to their death after being raped by the IS scoundrels, a biblical frail weeping old man clad in white on a donkey, men slaughtered for refusing to denounce their faith.

The humanitarian catastrophe caused by the Islamic State’s brute force is still threatening hundreds of thousands of Yazidis who are still in a precarious and dangerous state as local and international aid officials have warned. Now that most refugees are in relative safety, international relief organizations remind us of the magnitude of the catastrophe, calling for a more concerted humanitarian coordination, both regional and international, if effective and timely assistance is to be provided. The UN has declared the highest emergency level as the new refugees along with the previously displaced ones, a combined two million, face an uncertain and bleak future. The crisis has affected everyone as the last of the Yazidi refugees march to safety from Syria into the Kurdish regions.

On August 8, Rudaw announced that over 703,740 refugees were in the province of Dohuk. Hawler was housing more than 80000, and Zakho almost 200,000 .The UNHCR (UN High Commissioner for Refugees) is ceaselessly setting up tents for the continuing influx of the displaced families, posing challenges to providing aid to so many. Although the Kurdish government and the local people have been receiving the refugees with open arms, as the spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance has announced, “the sheer number puts an enormous burden on families in a poor region.” The Kurdish regional government is still ill-equipped and underfunded nor does it have the infrastructure to be able to meet the needs of so many in the midst of a life and death war against the savagery of IS terrorism. An alarming number of refugees still need immediate shelter, food, clothing, sanitation, hygiene, and medical attention; however, the real danger is that the refugees may be turned into slum dwellers as they overcrowd new and existing camps in and on the outskirts of towns and villages. It may be difficult to encourage many Yazidis to go back to their towns and villages in the absence of a formidable force to ensure their protection given the fact that some have lost their faith in the myth of Peshmerga’s resistance and the collaboration of their Arab neighbors with the invading IS bandits. The real disaster for the Yazidis is that the very foundation of their society is being destroyed unless most return to their historic land, protected by an international force. Increasingly the West and countries like Australia would be offering refuge to the Yazidis. While such generous offers would alleviate their plight, the question is whether what IS has destroyed, is not rebuilt.

The crisis is to be approached with long term insight and multi levels of global organizations of both governmental and non-governmental agencies in an area that has suffered multiple disasters and mass exodus, but has never developed a disaster management mechanism of its own. That is why the KRG and its charity organizations have been working with international organizations and hopefully in their collaboration will learn more effective mechanisms for strategic planning. A crucial necessity is to be able to use economic resources to initiate genuine development projects rather than becoming dependent on global relief aid that would eventually cause economic and political dependency. The current crisis would put increasing pressure on an area that has come to feel the economic effects of blockade and a limited budget imposed on Kurds by the Iraqi central government and US imposed restrictions against the KRG selling its oil.

Kurds needs help, particularly from Western powers, to strengthen themselves militarily, economically, and politically against the onslaughts of IS. Such a help is thankfully being provided, albeit belatedly and conditionally. Similar if not worse and greater tragedies loom over, if the status quo continues. This humanitarian crisis requires both private sector, governmental agencies, sympathetic states, and non-governmental relief organizations to join their forces not only to raise funds to save lives but also to engage in long term planning to support the humanitarian effort more effectively and evenly so that the refugees do not languish in shoddy tents for the rest of their lives, away from their historic sites.

To sum up, the Kurdish government should be given credit to have accommodated more than two million refugees, many of whom are still in need of safety, shelter, food, hygiene, education, sanitation, clothing, and medical facilities. What is urgent now is the need for developing contingency plans to enhance levels of cooperation with the UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration. Accurate assessment of the needs is to be updated and communicated to the outside world regularly and systematically. We should bear in mind that the current crisis is the result of the failed state of Iraq and a direct consequence of international policies and politics which adamantly disregarded Kurdish need for security and self-defense, and democratic rights in a war that now has proven to have transnational and supranational implications. Global solidarity with Yazidis will fade once those appalling and horrific images fade away from TV screens.

Dr. Amir Sharifi is President of the Kurdish American Education Society, Los Angeles

One Response to Tragedy of Yazidis: Challenges and Directions of International Relief Aid in Kurdistan
  1. Virginia
    August 21, 2014 | 12:11

    If the world forgets the the fate of the Yazidi and other minorities in Sinjar, the world will suffer the same fate! Keep solidarity alive. Our freedom depends on it.

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