By Wendy Barron, Country Director, CARE International in Iraq
For many years, Hassan Abas and his family regularly socialised with their neighbours, enjoying meals in each other’s homes watching their children play together like friends do. But around midnight of August 3, 2014 these bonds of friendship were cruelly ruptured. It was the night that armed groups attacked their village in the Sinjar region, Northern Iraq, targeting the Yazidi population. Neighbours who had been good friends suddenly turned their back on Hassan Abas and his family. Most probably they were too afraid to raise their voices and help their Yazidi friends, who happened to be the targets of later to be known subsequent horrific attacks. But still they didn’t step in.
Five years on, as we sit in one of the three tents Hassan Abas and his 22 family members are living in, the feeling of betrayal by their friends and neighbours is clearly palpable. It has morphed into a deep mistrust of anyone in their region. Like Hassan, many others of the 15,000 people living in Essyan camp feel that they cannot return to their homes because they don’t know who to trust.
Hassan’s recall of that night, five years ago, when they escaped to the Sinjar Mountains and spent four nights in the open with no food or water, vividly remains with all three generations of his family, as they recount horrific details of the violence – memories of girls being attacked and kidnapped and fathers blackmailed to buy them back for up to USD 35,000. In Northern Iraq families usually earn a monthly salary of USD 1,000 per month.
But even after all what had happened, the Abas family is grateful to authorities for allocating them a space in a camp: “Kurdistan is our region, but it is not our home,” says Hassan. “Five years is a long time to stay in a camp. But what options do we have?”
Unlike some people in the camp, the family has not tried to return to their village to ascertain the state of their home. They are frightened because they have heard of former neighbour’s being killed by explosive hazards when opening their front doors. Even though their house is still standing, there is not much left, they have heard it has completely been stripped of everything, leaving it hollow as a shell.
Sadly, no one is able to find work in Abas family. The family relies on 11,000 Iraq Dinars, approximately USD 9, per month per person. Sometimes there is daily work such as potato picking, where they can earn an extra 8,000 Iraq Dinars, approx. USD 5, for working from 5 a.m. until noon, but this is limited to a maximum of 3 days per month. Families in the camp have been told that there will be a move to targeted assistance and that some families will lose the monthly payment. This is an added worry for the family.
As we conclude our visit, the Abas’ agree that if they were assured basic services and safe places in the Sinjar region, they would return home. But shortly after agreeing, they emphasized that this is probably not going to happen, and that they will still be in this camp in 5 years’ time. Yet again, they reiterate the issue of trust and how they cannot now trust the people in their region.
Ensuring security and reinstating basic services such as schools and hospitals are thought to be the most important needs of the Yazidis in Sinjar to facilitate a possible return. CARE works to rehabilitate hospitals with medical equipment and supplies and supports families in camps with relief items. However, what appears to be the greatest challenge is how to reconcile and rebuild the trust between former friends.
Read more on CARE's work in Iraq, here.«All Stories and Blogs