Eight years in a tent

26 January 2022 | Stories of survivors, Urgent cases

The Yazidi community is one of the social groups, or ethnic minorities to be more accurate, who are the main beneficiaries of our aid. Why are we still helping them despite no war activities currently taking place in Iraq?

In November last year, I wrote a long article about the Yazidis and the reasons why they became a target of genocide at the hands of ISIS (The Yazidis. An ethnic minority or a nation?). It included a description of the victims’ current situation, so it’s worth reading it before diving into this article.

The answer to the question of why we are still helping the people who were victims of a genocide carried out almost eight years ago is rather simple: because they still need our support. I could close the topic here, but we try not to give laconic answers. We would like you to understand that war is not a movie and the closing credits are followed by many more scenes. The events in Iraq are a living example of how shallow is the world’s interest in human tragedy. The bombs don’t go off anymore, so sensational events need to be found elsewhere.

But the death of thousands of people, the kidnapping of thousands of women and children, and a mass exodus of tens of thousands, all these things must have had devastating consequences to the entire community. And it’s a rather small community of, according to various estimates, five hundred thousand to seven hundred thousand people. Another question naturally comes to mind, namely how long are we going to help them? And the answer is similar: as long as it is needed. We have no plan for this as any strategy needs to assume the volatility of conditions.

A long time has passed since the genocide, but it’s still not enough for the wounds to heal. The fact that despite the years going by, thousands of people have been lacking sufficient help from neither humanitarian organizations nor the government doesn’t make it better. Their inaction is starkly visible now, when the residents of Sardashty in the Sinjar Mountains where the largest informal camp for internally displaced people is located, have recently been struck by a natural disaster.

A hope covered with snow

In recent days, the region has been hit by a massive snowstorm. The roads were buried in snow and many villages got cut off from the rest of the world. People had nowhere to hide as strong wind easily penetrated the thin walls of their tents, those same several-year-old tents worn out and destroyed by the scorching summer sun that give no protection against bad weather.

People living in these tents have lost their houses when ISIS took over the region. They are victims of genocide. The tents were provided to them in 2014 by the UN and were meant to serve as a temporary shelter. But close to eight years have passed since that tragedy, and they are still living in tragic conditions. There is no hope that they improve in the nearest future. Most international organizations left Iraq as their funds for humanitarian projects run out. Many of them didn’t even reach Sardashty since it’s an unofficial camp. It’s not on the maps so for many it simply doesn’t exist. Sadly, this is the reality of humanitarian help that is provided mostly when there is media interest and when there are government, EU, or special funds allocated to a given country. Afterward, the support vanishes as the world’s attention is redirected to a different corner of the world with an ongoing conflict that increases the chances to obtain subsidies.

Looking at the pictures of the camp buried in the snow, one may get an impression they were taken in an Inuit village in Alaska and not in Iraq that’s often associated with a desert climate. In the summer, the temperature here can go beyond 50 degrees Celsius and from March until September there are practically no rainfalls. Vegetation is rather scarce here and farmlands require irrigation. The soil is loamy and doesn’t absorb water which leads to another disaster, namely regular floods during the thaw period. But the sight of such a large amount of snow is a surprise not only to us but also to the residents of Sinjar who simply have not been prepared for a sudden winter attack. They have neither stoves nor central heating. The only source of heating in the tents are petrol heaters that are not cheap for people who haven’t recovered from the tragedy that befell them yet.

As usual, the world remains passive

As I’ve mentioned, the residents of Sinjar and other regions that were affected by the ISIS attacks have no hope for action from the largest humanitarian organizations that do have resources and funds to undertake activities to help them. The bureaucratic machine is very slow in their case and by the time it comes up with an idea to check what the situation in Sinjar is, the winter will have passed and the topic of the Yazidis will have got buried again in a drawer. The Iraqi government is not fast to act either. The Yazidis are treated as second-class citizens in Iraq and they are used for internal political games. That’s how state structures in the region operate in general. People in parliaments are mostly preoccupied with their own political careers and are not eager to act beyond what’s required. An additional problem in Sinjar is constant instability and lack of security. There are many political and military factions active in the region that are unable to get along and treat this place as their sphere of influence.

That’s why we are trying to help these people as much as we can. Our activities are not very media-friendly. They do not attract much attention and it is more and more difficult to raise funds even though the needs are still massive. We are one of the very few left who still care about the victims of genocide. Another house built, another workplace opened and even emergency help get us a little bit closer to the goal. This “goal” is obviously metaphorical as it’s difficult to define it. We could say that every family we help is a step forward, but we do not know how many more steps are ahead of us.

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