Woman Who Fled Islamic State: This Is Genocide. Why Is No One Helping Us?

Fahima Hassan Saleh was 22 years old when ISIS overran her hometown in Sinjar, northern Iraq, in August 2014. As the militants closed in she and her family fled in their car, cramming their neighbors into the already overflowing vehicle.

They eventually made it to Kurdistan and are now living in a camp in Zakho, Dohuk, along with thousands of other displaced people – Yazidis, like Fahima, but Muslims and Christians too. Hundreds are orphaned children.

Speaking to Christian Today through an interpreter, Fahima recalled the day the militants came. She was sitting at home with her family when someone told them that Islamic State (also known as ISIS, ISIL) forces had entered their village.

"There was no way to escape," she said. "Only the mountain, if you wanted to survive."

"We heard shooting in the streets, and Daesh (ISIS) forces entered with their cars and they were singing happily that they would capture us all.

"We were terrified so we tried to escape."

All seven members of Fahima's family squeezed into their small car, and on the way saw their neighbor and his son, traveling on foot. They picked them up and drove to the bridge that links Sinjar Mountain with Kurdistan in the north of Iraq.

But when they got there, the army at the border refused to let them through. "They said, 'There is no problem, why are you escaping?'" Fahima recalled. "Then they heard the news that 5,000 women were missing, most of the men were killed, and they believed there was a very big danger, so they opened the borders and let us enter Kurdistan."

U.N. researchers have confirmed that as ISIS militants took over the Sinjar region, up to 5,000 Yazidi men were killed in a series of massacres that forced more than 400,000 people like Fahima to flee. Thousands of women were taken captive and disturbing accounts have emerged from those who have since managed to escape. Women and children have been brutally raped, abused, bartered and sold among jihadists for pennies.

In the weeks following the insurgency, 40,000 people – mostly Yazidis, a religious minority considered "devil-worshippers" by ISIS – were stranded on the Sinjar mountainside without food, water or shelter. Food and water drops were made by international agencies, but at least 300 people, most of them children, perished in the blistering temperatures.

Among the women who went missing was Fahima's aunt. She and her son were captured by ISIS and haven't been heard from since, though news has filtered through that the son – Fahima's cousin – was taken away from his mother to be trained as an ISIS fighter.

A close friend of Fahima's from college was also captured along with her sister, and her father and brother killed. She was raped 10 times before managing to escape. She is now in Germany receiving medical treatment.

In total, the General Directorate of Yazidi Affairs believes that 3,625 women remain in ISIS captivity, two years on from the capture of Sinjar. Of the 5,000 that were taken, the rest have either escaped, or committed suicide, among them were two of Fahima's neighbors in Sinjar. The only daughters in a family of 31 people, they were captured by ISIS while all their male relatives were killed, leaving just their elderly mother, who now lives alone in the Zakho camp.

The daughters were raped by militants before committing suicide. "They preferred to die," Fahima said.

She urged world leaders to do more to help the Yazidis and other minorities still suffering in Iraq. "Only the troops who are fighting Daesh try to help us ... the international community only says sorry. Why?" she said. "Why?"

Fahima was in the U.K. as part of a delegation supported by the AMAR International Charitable Foundation. During a conference on religious persecution held at Windsor Castle this week, she told delegates that not enough had been done to support victims of genocide in the Middle East.

"The crimes and violations against humanity of the terrorist organization ISIS are still being perpetrated," she said. More than 800 Yazidi children have been abducted and recruited to fight, 44 Yazidi shrines have been destroyed and 30 mass graves discovered in liberated areas to the north of Sinjar Mountain. More are expected to exist in the southern part still under ISIS control.

"Despite all these crimes against the Yazidis and other minorities, the Iraq government is remaining silent and unresponsive. This fact clearly shows the very little sense of responsibility toward the Yazidis, the Christians and also toward the other communities living in Iraq. Many are exposed to the religious and ethnic targeting and nothing is being done," Fahima said.

"Despite all these attacks against humanity we are still living a tragedy and many countries are now aware of our situation and do have sympathy for us. Two years on now, however, any realistic action has [not] taken place."

She continued: "All we ever wanted is to live peacefully with all the different Iraqi communities, without discrimination ... we have the strong feeling that can we not live without any urgent international protection.

"We are one of the people who suffered the most genocide in the world. I am here on behalf of my people, and in the name of humanity, to ask you to please help us to get rid of the terror that we are living continuously."

AMAR has launched an appeal called "Help Yazidis Home," which aims to raise money to rebuild health centers, schools and community centers in villages destroyed by ISIS.

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