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A Hell Like No Other

“They surrounded our village with Hummers and guns,” says Amusha. “They killed our men.”UNHCR/A. McConnell

 

On a recent visit to refugee settlements in Iraq, UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie met 3 survivors of kidnapping and detention who managed to escape or get released.

Tortured. Electrocuted. Sold into slavery. Every day, hundreds of kidnapped women and girls in Iraq and Syria suffer violence and abuse at the hands of militants. Those lucky enough to escape or be released often have no home or family to return to. Three survivors speak of the horror that haunts them still.

Amusha

Amusha was among 196 Yazidis released in January 2015. Now she waits anxiously for news of her 35-year-old daughter, who is believed to be in Raqqa, Syria, where women are sometimes taken to be sold.

A widow for 34 years, Amusha has experienced loss before. But the absence of her beloved daughter is especially painful.

Rocking gently on the floor of her tent, she recalls the moment when fighters came to her village. “They brought buses and packed them with beautiful and young girls,” she says, her eyes swollen with tears. “They took my daughter and left 12 of us behind.”

At that, her face crumples. The memories are too painful to bear. “My daughter is like a shining star,” she sobs.

As conflict intensifies, humanitarian organisations struggle to meet the needs of survivors of violence and human rights abuses. Together with the Iraqi Government, UNHCR and its partners have been providing aid for months. But much more needs to be done.
“Nothing can prepare you for the horrific stories of these survivors of kidnap, abuse and exploitation and to see how they cannot all get the urgent help they need and deserve,” Jolie said. “The needs so dramatically outstrip the resources available in this vast crisis. Much more international assistance is needed.”

Tens of thousands of mainly Yazidi people have fled to Syria since militants captured Sinjar and other northern Iraq towns in early August. An increasing number of Yazidis (an estimated 15,000) are seeking refuge in Newroz refugee camp in Syria, where UNHCR is working with World Food Programme and UNICEF to deliver shelter and household items, ready to eat food, high energy biscuits, children's summer clothes and soap in response to Yazidi refugee crisis. 

Naseema

Violent sobs wrack Naseema’s body as she recalls the day when insurgents came to kidnap her family. “My eldest daughter was screaming. She was shouting at them, ‘I will never go with you!’”

Like many Yazidi women, 45-year-old Naseema spent months in captivity. She now lives in an abandoned building near Dohuk, after finally being released, but the torment isn’t over. Her eldest daughter has since been sold to a man in Syria, she says, and her husband and nine-year-old are missing.

With just her two youngest sons left, the mother of seven prays for her family to be reunited. “Imagine taking one’s family before one’s eyes, how it would be,” she says. “It is like a bird that flies and disappears suddenly.”

Naseema and her son were released after months in captivity. But her husband, daughters and other sons are still missing. UNHCR/Andrew McConnell
Naseema and her son were released after months in captivity. But her husband, daughters and other sons are still missing. UNHCR/Andrew McConnell

Sabreen

Sabreen is still haunted by the memory of the day her father was taken away. “They took all the men to trucks,” she remembers. “We heard a lot of gunfire. The children came in crying and said all the men are dead.”

Although the 22-year-old is now safe in Dohuk, thoughts of what she and her family went through are never far away. “My mother and I cried very much,” she recalls. “We pleaded to them to take us together.”

At gunpoint, Sabreen, her four-year-old sister Dilvian and her mother were imprisoned in Mosul and then sold as slaves in Syria. There, Sabreen was tortured and electrocuted for one hour every day while her younger sister was forced to watch.

The pain of losing their father never subsides. “When I go to bed I can’t sleep,” says little Dilvian. “I am always thinking of my father. I miss him. I want to tell him he is always on my mind.”

Sabreen and Dilvian, her four-year-old sister, were released after months in captivity. “I was crying and begging him to stop, but he wouldn’t listen,” Dilvian says. UNHCR/Tiger Nest Films
Sabreen and Dilvian, her four-year-old sister, were released after months in captivity. “I was crying and begging him to stop, but he wouldn’t listen,” Dilvian says. UNHCR/Tiger Nest Films