As Islamic State weakens, step up efforts to free Yazidi sex slaves, survivor says

by Lin Taylor | @linnytayls | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Monday, 6 November 2017 10:00 GMT

Yazidi activist Farida Khalaf poses for a photo in London, November 3, 2017. THOMSON REUTERS FOUNDATION/Cormac O'Brien

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"They destroyed my dreams and I don't want other girls' dreams to be destroyed"

By Lin Taylor

LONDON, Nov 6 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - As Islamic State fighters beat her mercilessly for trying to flee from captivity as a sex slave in Syria, Yazidi teenager Farida Khalaf was never once deterred from plotting her next chance to escape.

"They told me and my friend that they would take us to a place where we will never be able to flee. They beat me so much I lost the vision in my eye for a long time. They did everything to us," said Khalaf in Arabic through an interpreter.

"But as they were beating me, I became stronger (and more determined) to flee," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation during an interview in London.

Khalaf, now 21 and a campaigner, was among 7,000 Yazidi women and girls forced into sex slavery, when Islamic State militants assaulted the community's heartland in Sinjar, northern Iraq in August 2014.

More than 5,000 people in the religious minority were rounded up and slaughtered by the fighters, also known as ISIS.

"When we were living under ISIS they did everything to us - from beating, to raping, to separating children from their mothers," said Khalaf, who now lives in Germany.

She said she would resist the militants as much as she could, even berating them for hurting women and girls instead of fighting a real battle on the field.

After four months in captivity, Khalaf found herself in a boarded-up house with five other girls - and an unlocked door.

The group took their chance and fled, crossing from Syria into Kurdistan in northern Iraq where Khalaf was reunited with her brother.

"I fled on 10 December, and arrived in Iraq on 17 December. This is the date of my real birthday - the day I was free from ISIS," she said.

Militants were driven out of the last part of the Yazidi homeland in northern Iraq in May. However, most Yazidis have yet to return to villages.

Nearly 3,000 Yazidi women and children remain in Islamic State captivity, and control over Sinjar is disputed by rival armed factions and their regional patrons. Justice for the crimes Yazidis suffered, including sexual enslavement, has also so far proved elusive.

Ahmed Burjus, deputy director of Yazda, a Yazidi-led charity that supports survivors and is documenting evidence of mass killings committed by the militants, said more needed to be done to help the plight of his people.

"Almost all the areas are liberated from ISIS in Iraq and Syria but those Yazidi people are missing. Have they been killed? We don't know where they are," he said in an interview in London.

A U.N. human rights Commission of Inquiry, which declared the killings of thousands of Yazidis to be a genocide, said in August that the atrocity had not ended and that the international community was not doing enough to stop it.

"I know how difficult it is because I was under their control for four months - but what about those who are still in captivity for over three years?" Khalaf said.

"They destroyed my dreams and I don't want other girls' dreams to be destroyed. We want this genocide to be stopped so we can return to our homes," she said.

(Reporting by Lin Taylor @linnytayls, Editing by Ros Russell; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters that covers humanitarian issues, conflicts, land and property rights, modern slavery and human trafficking, gender equality, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org to see more stories)

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