Dohuk - three camps Khanki, Sharia and Kabartu
Kurdistan , N Iraq
The air hits your body with heat the moment you walk outside. It sucks the life out of you it is so hot. My eyes stare in shock at the shimmering horizon. Waves of heat seem to be visible, rising through the dusty landscape. With temperatures easily between 40'c to 50'c everyone stays in doors as much as possible during the day. Finally, in the evening air, there is some respite from the baking hot day and the night air comes alive with the sounds of children laughing and playing till past midnight.
I enter into the Yezidi camp near Dohuk late on one such evening. Here, the camp is silent. It is two years to the month that ISIS attacked and captured the Christians and Yezidi minorities of the Ninevah Plains and the Shengal.
I am to meet a young woman of 25 years and her four children, all of whom have just escaped slavery from IS twenty-four hours ago.
I step into her empty tent. She has nothing in the tent save some mattresses on the floor. Like many of the other survivors, she comes back into an IDP (internally displaced person) camp to live in a tent with little or no support after what she and her children have been through. She was sold 13 times to ISIS fighters that used and abused her at will. They are soldiers of the so called Islamic State who believe they can buy and sell for their sexual pleasure woman and children who are not Muslim. They pass them from one jihadi to another or simply go down to the slave market and choose a girl.
She cries as she tells her story. Her hands twist the white tissue she holds over and over into a tight ball of pain and agony soaked with tears. Some were Iraqi men, some Chinese or Saudi Arabian and one was an American Muslim. Her daughter of 9 years was taken by the Saudi Arabian for some weeks and sexually abused. Her son was taken and used as a slave in the home of one of the ISIS fighters' families. One sold two of her children. They were found some time later abandoned in a home while the ISIS fighter had gone into battle. They are all under the age of 9.
She fought hard the entire time in captivity to keep track of her children and to try and keep the family united. Alone, as her husband and the other men were killed by ISIS, she told us she endured for the sake of her children.
After two years in captivity as a sex slave she was able to escape because her family raised thousands of dollars from friends and relatives sympathetic to the plight of these women. They paid an extortionate ransom to save them.
During the day, I spend some hours with her, helping to pick out kitchenware and clothing; buckets to carry water and to wash up in hard camp conditions; clothing for her and the children as they arrived only with what they had when they escaped - the clothing they had worn for the risky trip to freedom. She tells me she can't wear colors as she is too sad and in grief and mourning for the death of her husband and menfolk in her family. And finally, she receives packages of food, toiletries and detergents for herself and her family.
She and the 110 other women and girls that we help, all former sex slaves of ISIS, are incredibly grateful for the aid and assistance. Most of them have children and are trying to cope with not only what happened to them but the trauma their children went through. And now they are IDPs in a sprawling hot and dusty camp.
Our helping them with something to start over with as they come back, not only gives them assistance in this situation, but also some hope. Hope that we have not forgotten them. Hope that we will be a voice for what they have been through. And hope to keep living and fighting for their lives and the lives of their children.