In August 2014, ISIS began raiding north-western Iraq, in the ancestral lands of Sinjar, where the Yazidis have lived for centuries. The Yazidis are still fighting for their lives, largely displaced throughout the region.
Roughly 20 refugee camps housing 500,000 displaced refugees – mostly Yazidi Iraqis are spread throughout the Duhok governorate, an ancient Assyrian settlement in Iraqi Kurdistan roughly one hour’s drive from Mosul, Iraq. Across its borders, women and children are sold as slaves to the highest bidder.
One Yazidi Iraqi woman, Halo, recently shared with The Telegraph her harrowing escape from being kidnapped and sold into slavery by ISIS after its fighters raided her village. Her husband wasn’t there at the time; he was fighting with the Iraqi Kurdish forces in another region and would return to not learn what had happened to her until one year later.
After ISIS attacked her village, its fighters separated the men from the women and children. Halo’s son, Hani, was initially put with the men, but was later sent to her because he was only nine-years-old.
Next, ISIS fighters systematically shot and buried 400 men in a mass grave. Then, they sent the women and children to one of their strongholds in Tal Afar, inbetween Mosul and Sinjar. Halo and her three children were among them.
Then, Halo and her children were sent south to Anbar province, also under ISIS control. They passed through a dozen Islamic families before being sent to the slave market in Raqqa, Syria, to be sold.
Now a slave, Halo, along with other Yazidi women, was kept in a hall and frequently inspected by men to determine her financial worth. The “best-looking” women and girls fetched higher prices. But “for the right price” all women were sold to ISIS fighters depending on the seller’s negotiating skills.
Halo was spared of being repeatedly raped because she had children. But she was not spared from being frequently tormented and beaten by her captors. And it was common to go days without being given any food. She ended up spending nine months in Raqqa, with an Islamic family under the protection of ISIS, for whom she worked as a slave with no compensation.
Throughout this ordeal, Halo had no telephone, no access to the Internet, and no access to the outside world. Her husband had no idea where she was and could not contact her for over one year. She said,
“Throughout my captivity, my three children (Hanna, Helena, and Hani) were the only thing that kept me alive. I was too afraid of losing them to dream of fleeing Daesh.”
Eventually, a member of this Islamic family gave Halo a phone to use. She was able to reach her husband who said he knew a smuggler who could rescue her.
She recalled, “Freedom seemed unthink-able, something unreachable back then. Life under Daesh had drained me of all hope. I hardly believed my husband.”
The smuggler was successful. After Halo cleared certain check points, she was put in a safe house on the outskirts of Raqqa. She and her children stayed in a bunker for five days with other Yazidis. Eventually, they reached the Kurdish-controlled city of Kobane, and then traveled to and reached Duhok.
Halo was one of the fortunate ones. She and her children were reunited with her husband.
Prior to ISIS invading, the Yazidis of Sinjar numbered about 400,000. According to the Kurdistan Regional Government’s Office of Kidnapped Affairs (which was created to document and fund rescue operations) ISIS executed 3,000 Yazidi men and took captive more than 6,000 women and children in the first two years of its attacks. More are missing and their fate is unknown.
Simply by the number of kidnapped Yazidis, every family has a story to tell of a missing relative. Few are as fortunate as Halo to have survived and lived to tell about it.