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Prioritizing ISIS over survivors?

by Nadia Murad | Nadia’s Initiative
Tuesday, 12 March 2019 09:15 GMT

ARCHIVE PHOTO: Displaced people from the minority Yazidi sect, fleeing violence from forces loyal to the Islamic State in Sinjar town, walk towards the Syrian border, on the outskirts of Sinjar mountain, near the Syrian border town of Elierbeh of Al-Hasakah Governorate August 10, 2014. REUTERS/Rodi Said

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

My greatest fear is that if the world still fails to act, my community – the Yazidi community - will cease to exist

Nadia Murad is Nobel Peace laureate and president of Nadia’s Initiative.

The debate surrounding the return to western countries of individuals who joined ISIS voluntarily is perplexing. ISIS members supported an ideology that sought to exterminate an entire population – the Yazidi people. Having had 18 family members murdered by ISIS and being taken captive and forced to be a sex slave, along with my sisters and several nieces and friends, I find this debate unconscionable. At this very moment, more attention is given to the desire of a few ISIS fighters who want to forget their crimes and live in western countries, than to the reported discovery of the be-headed remains of 50 Yazidi women likely executed by ISIS. 

ISIS fighters are now being held in Iraq and Syria. The problem confronting the global community is how to handle ISIS foreign fighters. While many governments do not want them to return home, the question which needs to be addressed is what will happen? Will ISIS fighters simply be let out of custody? What government is responsible for punishing them?

Legally, it may be true that members of ISIS have the right to return to their countries of origin and in the end that may be the best solution – particularly for the innocent children. However, the international community needs to consider the human side of the equation. By allowing members of ISIS to return to western countries, are we facilitating a better life for them than survivors? The individuals who wish to return to western countries are at best co-conspirators to murder, slavery, sexual violence and torture. Plain and simple. Yes, they will likely serve some prison sentence, but a prison sentence less than “life” is unacceptable. 

According to the Council of Europe Annual Penal Statistics: SPACE I – 2015 report, which includes data from 47 Members States, the average amount spent per day for the detention of one person was a bit more than 102 Euros. The maximum amount spent was approximately 480 Euros. Should we not spend similar amounts on the survivors, on healing their wounds and communities, on freeing them to live again?

Survivors are often ignored because they are not a threat. A greater willingness exists to rehabilitate terrorists then help survivors. The challenges facing the Yazidi community exist in post-conflict zones all over the world. In 2016, there were approximately 6.9 million new internal displacements due to conflict according to the International Displacement Monitoring Center. When will the needs of innocent survivors be addressed in a manner similar to the needs of individuals in detention? When will the internationally community prioritize the needs of survivors, rather than continuing to victimize the victims?

The international community must address the needs of 350,000 Yazidis living in internal displacement camps in northern Iraq where they have lived for over 4 years, without access to basic needs and services, with the same zealous they are evaluating the potential relocation of ISIS fighters. We cannot forget, over 3,000 Yazidi women and girls are still missing. For Yazidis, the genocide is on-going. The international community claims victory in “defeating” ISIS, but how many resources are going towards ending the genocide for the Yazidi people? Until Sinjar is rebuilt, the administrative dispute between Baghdad and Erbil is resolved, and the Yazidi community can safely return to their ancestral homeland, the genocide committed by ISIS will continue.

If internally displaced persons were given the choice of remaining in a camp or serving a prison term in the west where they would be provided security, food, clothing and education; some would choose temporary incarceration over a continued existence in a living hell. My greatest fear is that if the world still fails to act, my community – the Yazidi community - will cease to exist.  And if my people – the Yazidi people - cease to exist, who will be next? Your community, your family? There is no appropriate punishment. The only appropriate action is to help survivors.