For­mer Yazidi IS cap­tives re­unite with fam­i­lies

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - News - BY PHILIP ISSA As­so­ci­ated Press

A group of Yazidi women and chil­dren re­united with their fam­i­lies in Iraq Sat­ur­day af­ter five years of cap­tiv­ity at the hands of the Is­lamic State group, hug­ging and kiss­ing rel­a­tives in emo­tional scenes that un­der­scored their years­long or­deal and that of their dev­as­tated com­mu­nity.

Elated fam­i­lies met their loved ones at a ru­ral truck stop on the road be­tween Sin­jar and Do­huk, toss­ing candy in the air like con­fetti, the women ul­u­lat­ing with joy.

The 18 re­turn­ing chil­dren, aged 10 to 15, ap­peared weary and at times un­easy with the at­ten­tion of the me­dia and of­fi­cials. One teenage boy col­lapsed in his aunt’s arms and broke down in tears. Few par­ents were there to re­ceive their chil­dren – many are still miss­ing in ter­ri­tory held by the Is- lamic State or have been con­firmed killed. Other par­ents have al­ready sought asy­lum in West­ern na­tions in the hopes their chil­dren will be able to fol­low them.

Still, the chil­dren could not hide their joy at be­ing hugged and kissed once more by their rel­a­tives af­ter the long and trau­matic sep­a­ra­tion.

They in­cluded 11 boys that many fear were trained in mil­i­tary camps by IS, though they all de­nied it. Only days since es­cap­ing the ex­trem­ist group, the chil­dren were strug­gling to come to terms with their or­deal.

“They treated us well,” said 13-year-old Mi­lad Hus­sein Kha­laf. He said the mil­i­tants sep­a­rated him from his fam­ily when they were ab­ducted in 2014 and sent the then-8year-old to be raised by an IS fam­ily.

About 3,000 Yazidis are still miss­ing af­ter IS mil­i­tants stormed their com­mu­ni­ties in the Sin­jar re­gion in north­west Iraq in 2014, and en­slaved, raped and killed thou­sands of wor­ship­pers of the es­o­teric faith. The ex­trem­ist group con­sid­ers the Kur­dish-speak­ing re­li­gious mi­nor­ity to be heretics.

The group of 3 Yazidi women and 18 chil­dren who re­united with their fam­i­lies Sat­ur­day are among thou­sands of civil­ians who emerged in the last few days from the last speck of ter­ri­tory held by the Is­lamic State group in the vil­lage of Baghouz, in eastern Syria. They crossed into Iraq from Syria on Fri­day, and were picked up by their fam­i­lies on Sat­ur­day.

Kha­laf said his IS fam­ily put him in a re­li­gious school and he’s learned to re­cite pas­sages from the Qu­ran which he stud­ied every day. Kha­laf’s older cousin, Siri Ali, used a video chat app on her phone so her sis­ters in Canada could see him ar­rive. She said Kha­laf doesn’t know that his par­ents are still miss­ing.

“Thank God, they have re­turned and they are among us. This child does not have a mother or a fa­ther. We are go­ing to be his par­ents,” said Kha­laf’s other cousin, Noura Ali.

“We thank all the sides that worked to­gether to res­cue them, and we hope that the rest of the miss­ing peo­ple will re­turn.”

Kha­laf said there are still chil­dren in Baghouz, but he couldn’t know how many.

Also among the ar­rivals was Dil­bar Ali Ravu, 10. He looked slightly stunned, but also couldn’t hide his joy. His un­cle, Ji­had Ravu, said Dil­bar de­vel­oped le­sions on his face while he was be­ing held in a cell in Tal Afar in the early days of his cap­tiv­ity, af­ter he was ab­ducted five years ago. He says Dil­bar hasn’t had proper med­i­cal treat­ment since then.

Susan Fahmy, a co­or­di­na­tor for the NGO Khalsa Aid, said she is cer­tain all the boys were sent to train­ing and that they need years of re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion.

PHILIP ISSA AP

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

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