A letter from a Yazidi Refugee- Meet Khalaf Dhakeel

Editor’s Note: This letter was originally published in The Jerusalem Post.

By Khalaf Dakheel

January 16, 2018

I’m Khalaf Dakheel. I am a 17-year-old Yazidi.

My people have always been peaceful and non-aggressive. We believe in God and humanity and respect other religions. I grew up in a village called Wardia, near Sinjar, Iraq. We lived with honor and dignity.

We were a very close community and pretty much kept to ourselves. When I was only 13 years old, we heard that the Islamic State (ISIS) was headed toward us and also that they were doing very bad things. We fled to the mountain, but ISIS intercepted all of us and forced us back to our village. By that time many of our very own Muslim neighbors had joined in with ISIS and were also killing many Yazidis.

When we returned to Wardia, ISIS was separating prisoners by age and gender. They then killed many of the men and took our sisters and mothers as sex slaves to be used by them and then sold. Those of us remaining stayed in the village that night as hostages. We soon learned it was ISIS’s hope to wipe all of us off the face of the world if we refused to convert.

When we refused, they said they would kill all of us and we were all very frightened. However, there was a problem in Sinjar City and one of their leaders summoned their men away from our village immediately.

We were told not to move and, of course, we agreed. As soon as we could, we all fled to the mountain and then climbed up as high as possible, taking refuge anywhere we could find.

We suffered in the soaring summer heat for eight days with no assistance from the outside world. There was no food or water. Many of the elderly and children died of thirst, hunger and exhaustion. We were all alone.

Finally, there were airlifts and a safe passage to Syria was created for us. Many of the men stayed on the mountain to fight with what little arms they had as they watched their families struggling down the mountain to a fate unknown.

We journeyed to Syria where they welcomed us with food and water. We were then transported back into Kurdistan, Iraq, where we found relative safety and lived wherever we could find an abandoned building, or just out in the open, until camps were built a few months later.

I have now been living in Camp Bersive for three years. The tents are rotted from the sun and are not fireproof. Just a few days ago in mid-December, 20 tents burned to the ground. This is not uncommon as it is winter and we have no heating oil. So people use candles, build little fires, anything to keep warm. But it is very dangerous.

We only have electricity about six hours a day. As the tents are on dirt, when it rains, many of the tents are flooded. And it is difficult to walk on mud. To make matters worse, we never have enough food rations or medicines. Sickness runs rampant throughout all the camps, both physical and mental. Jobs are almost nonexistent and we are persecuted by people of the majority faith. We are not allowed to speak out or complain about our government or we are arrested and “re-educated.”

Yazidis are not allowed to sell dairy products, or produce or sell any food on the open market as we are considered kuffar (unclean) by the Muslims. We are not allowed to join any organized sports teams for the same reasons.

We cannot obtain employment in any food service industries as Muslims will not eat anything we have touched.

I wish to be a journalist. I need to tell the world how we are treated and yet no one is helping us. Most of the government is corrupt as well as many NGOs. Very little gets to the Yazidis. Someone needs to listen and soon. Otherwise, the Yazidis will eventually disappear forever. After of thousands of years on this Earth, is this the final fate of the Yazidis? I live in a very bad and difficult situation. It’s my dream to get abroad, to Europe, to help poor families because I know what’s happening to those who live in camps and who lost their brothers and sisters and have nothing. But I cannot get there.

With Love
Khalaf Dakheel 🖋️

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