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Fears for Missing Yazidis as Islamic State Nears Defeat

2019-3-11

Baseh Hammo was 38 years old when she was captured and enslaved by men fighting for the Islamic State group. She was raped and abused. She was sold 17 times among members of the group. They moved from city to city across a large territory IS forces once controlled in northern Iraq and Syria.

Hammo was freed in January in the Syrian village of Baghouz. Her release came just as the final battle between the militants and U.S.-led Syrian Kurdish forces was about to begin. That is when an IS member gave her permission to leave the village.

Syrian Kurdish forces found her and reunited her with her two daughters in Iraq a few days later.

Dilbar Ali Ravu, 10, is kissed by his aunt Dalal Ravu after Yazidi children were reunited with their families in Iraq after five years of captivity with the Islamic State group, March 2, 2019.
Dilbar Ali Ravu, 10, is kissed by his aunt Dalal Ravu after Yazidi children were reunited with their families in Iraq after five years of captivity with the Islamic State group, March 2, 2019.

Hammo is a Yazidi, a follower of a religion that the IS leadership hates. Many Yazidi women and children are still missing since they were kidnapped by the militants. In August of 2014, IS forces attacked several Yazidi towns and villages. They killed more than 5,000 people, and forced many women into sexual slavery.

Many people hoped that some of the 3,000 Yazidis still missing would be found when IS was destroyed.

But, as thousands of people fled Baghouz, only 47 Yazidis were found, notes Hussein Karo. He is the head of the Yazidi Rescue Bureau in Iraq’s regional Kurdish government.

Now, Hammo and Farha Farman, another rescued Yazidi woman, told The Associated Press they fear many may never return home. They fear the offensive on Baghouz may endanger Yazidis who are still in the village.

The two women said some Yazidi women are refusing to leave their children behind with their fathers, men who fight for IS. Some Yazidis are just too afraid to leave.

Hammo said her days as a slave were little more than loneliness and violence.

She was sold 17 times. One of her owners, a Swede, would force her to stay in their home for days without food while he went to fight. Another man, an Albanian, stomped on her hands with his feet, after she criticized him for buying a 9-year-old slave girl.

Hammo's final months in captivity were difficult because there was little food. By the end, she was eating grass and other plant life.

"I cannot even look at anything the color green anymore," said Hammo. She had heard there are still 1,000 Yazidis inside Baghouz, including 130 boys training to become jihadi fighters.

Farman, age 21, returned home to Iraq in early February. She does not know what happened to her sister and nine young male relatives who were all captured by IS five years ago.

She said international airstrikes had killed some Yazidis living as slaves.

Hammo said she had asked a Yazidi woman married to an Uzbek IS fighter to leave Baghouz with her. The woman would not leave the two children she had with the man.

"She said she'd blow herself up first," said Hammo.

Another Yazidi woman in Bahgouz had been forced to marry a Saudi man. IS forces took two of her sons to be trained as fighters.

"She said she couldn't leave without them," Hammo said.

Farman was 17 when she was kidnapped by IS from Sinjar. She tried to escape several times, but failed. She was often beaten by her captors.

Her parents paid a smuggler to help her escape, but he was caught.

Her final captor asked if she would flee with him to Turkey. She refused. He sold her to a smuggler for $10,000, money raised by the Yazidi community. Farman made it to freedom.

Her captor did not. He was caught by the U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish forces outside Baghouz, and has not been heard of since, she said.

Both Farman and Hammo now live in Yazidi camps outside Dohuk in Iraq.

I'm Susan Shand.

The Associated Press reported this story. Susan Shand adapted the AP reports for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

stomp – v. to put (your foot) down forcefully and noisily

regional – adj. of or related to a given area; serving an area

smuggler – someone who imports or exports products in violation of the law

jihadi adj. of or related to a Muslim who supports the idea of a holy war against non-believers