It Doesn’t Get Easier: Yazidis facing the Covid pandemic

Roza Qaidi - Iraqi Kurdistan

Roza Qaidi is a Yazidi activist and academic based at Dohuk University Iraqi Kurdistan, working closely with Yazidi women and children genocide survivors. She has supported the work of the UN Commissions of Inquiry, and also human rights organizations in their documentation efforts

On the morning of the 3rd of August 2014, my fiancé and I had a plan that was never carried out. We were at the bank of Duhok University, chatting and laughing, waiting to receive our salaries and go to the market to buy what we needed for our engagement party that should have taken place five days later. It was a matter of moments when everything changed utterly and forever. We perceived murmurs, regular chats and eye contacts were not the same anymore. I called my sister who was living in the outskirts of Duhok city; she confirmed it “ISIS is in Sinjar, and there is news of killings of Yazidis in the streets”. The happy feelings I was experiencing minutes before that call never came back to me again after hearing that news.

The Yazidis are a religious minority that has existed for millennia. With less than a million individuals, most of us live in the Kurdish Region of Iraq. Other Yazidi communities live in Europe and other countries.

In the early morning of the same day, ISIS had moved towards the Sinjar region in northwest Iraq, close to the Iraqi–Syrian border. Before ISIS attacks, the majority of the region’s inhabitants were Yazidis, with a smaller number of Sunni Arabs.

It was rapidly apparent that the Yazidis were ISIS' target. Some families fled into the Kurdish Region of Iraq. Others escaped to the upper slopes of Mount Sinjar, where they were besieged by ISIS. Thousands were trapped, with no shade, water, food or medical care. Hundreds died on the mountain.

ISIS captured thousands of Yazidis in their villages or on the roads during their attempt to flee. Upon capture, ISIS fighters separated Yazidi men and adolescent boys from their families. Almost all the men were executed. ISIS fighters then moved the Yazidi women and children deeper into ISIS-controlled territory. Women and girls were sexually enslaved and boys recruited as ISIS soldiers. Yazidi women and girls have been sold and resold into sexual slavery, beaten, starved and forced into labour in the homes of ISIS fighters.

Thousands of Yazidis who have survived ISIS captivity today live in displaced people’s camps, unfinished buildings and rented accommodation in the Kurdish Region of Iraq for the past six years. Most of the survivors of ISIS captivity join the remaining of their displaced family members or relatives after they return from captivity. The internally displaced persons (IDPs) and survivors lack basic life needs as adequate health care, private shelters, sources of income, electricity and water. The IDPs are traumatized due to the experience of surviving genocide and having missing and killed family members by ISIS. [1]

On the sixth year of displacement came Covid-19, which impacted the whole world, but for those whose life was already tragic, the impact is devastating. According to an article written by Jessie Williams, the corona pandemic is going to have long term impact on the psychology of the displaced Yazidis who are already traumatized as the percentage of anxiety and depression among them, especially women, is increasing since the outbreak of Covid-19; The suicide cases are on the increase. [2]

The lockdown as well as the fear of Covid-19 need to be put in context as they do not dominate the lives of people who are still suffering so much, in total contrast with the way the pandemic is being experienced in the West.

Survivors have and still are suffering from the day of captivity until they returned to live usually in tents in the camps. However, survivors who remained in captivity until 2019 [3] are further traumatized because they went through battles, displacement within ISIS captivity, and lack of food and water. Some of these survivors are having an identity issue right now. The Yazidi community is facing many challenges every day, some of which could have serious risks in the future. This is especially so when it comes to the case of the indoctrinated children and women survivors. Many of the children and some of the younger women have forgotten their mother tongue, Kurdish, and only speak Arabic, in some cases Turkish or English depending with which ISIS members they were kept as hostages. No proper program is designed to help the children and women with long-term rehabilitation, there is a chance that the boys might end up as extremists and harm the community. In general women who are left with children and no men are suffering twice, whether IDPs or survivors. Women survivors are facing difficulties having to live with the trauma of all the forms of abuse they went through while in captivity, and having children survivors with them, caring for them alone inside a tent.

I talked to three displaced Yazidi women and asked them to share their stories of displacement under Covid-19 pandemic. The women either live in IDP camps, or they live in tents in random areas in the outskirts of Duhok governorate. [4]

Below are their stories as they told them to me.

A 42 years old woman, mother of 7 children and a wife of a husband suffering from a severe illness. [5]

Two years ago, our life was better than now. Since my husband’s illness, nothing is the same; life has become challenging. He suffers from a severe disease in his spine. He could only get medical treatment in India. We asked many NGOs to help us, but no one did. We borrowed money from everyone we know to send him to India for treatment, he went in March and remained there for a couple of months; that was when the Corona outbreak started. It was tough for my children and me as we remained alone in the tent. One night in March there was heavy rain, our tent was full of water. I barely managed to rescue my children; we spent the night in the neighbour’s tent. Since then, I have pain in my feet because of the water. It was a very miserable and stressful time, Corona emerged, and my husband wasn’t home, he was sick, and we were in the tent all the time. The schools were closed; the situation became worse, with the children and me always inside the tent. There was unemployment registration for anyone who is jobless. I wanted to register my husband’s name, but they refused because my husband needed to be present and sign but he was in India and they did n't want me to sign instead of him. Many people receive unemployment money, but we don’t, even though my husband is unemployed. My husband has now returned, yet due to the Corona lockdown, there are no more registrations. I don’t know what to do. When my husband returned to the country, he was in quarantine in Duhok for two weeks. It was very difficult because he was very sick. Since he has come back from India, he hasn’t got better; I don’t know what to do or where to take him, there is no treatment here.It is a complicated situation for us, he is sick, each week we buy very expensive medicine, and I swear to God we spent around 100,000[6]Iraqi dinars on his tests every time. It has been six years, and since we had to run away from ISIS, I am suffering from a psychological condition myself. Whenever I see a man with a beard, I become fearful; I don't ever want to see any human with a beard ever again.

Now we are in debt,we owe $ 45 000 that we spent on my husband’s treatment. We don’t know what to do; there is no work; there is nothing. If school opens, I cannot send my children to school because we don’t have money. I need to buy them shoes, clothes, notebooks and pens. It is tough, it is all up to God what can we human do?

I am doing everything, taking care of my children, taking my husband to doctors, many times when I am in a taxi going to the doctor, I cry my eyes out. I cry all the time, as much as I cry, I still don’t feel right. No man supports us. When my husband went to India for the surgery, my oldest daughter accompanied him. We have no men in our life; it is only the oldest daughter who is taking care of everything with me.

My husband has post-surgery complications. There is no treatment here in Iraq. We don’t know what to do; if you have a sick person inside your home, you will always think of how to treat him, because of the Corona, I do not know where to take him and what to do. I heard there is a very good doctor in another city but who would help us to get the papers that would allow us to pass through the checkpoints?

We are not receiving any aid from anyone, nothing at all. There was a food distribution for some families who live in tents but many, including us, received nothing and we don’t know why.

We are waiting for the roads to open; there is no other solution; the doctors need to supervise him and see how he is doing continuously. Six years now of living in misery, wind and heat, no work. I cannot return to Sinjar, we can't get the medicine and tests here. Anyone who has a sick person cannot go. If we go there and roads to Duhok are closed because of Corona, what can I do then?

When I feel bad, I keep myself busy doing housework to forget about everything. I don’t know what to do, my husband is sick, I have children that have needs, and nothing is worse than having a psychological illness. The neighbours don’t visit us because they are concerned about my husband whose immunity is weak. It is just me, him and the children all the time. My life is very difficult; the children keep telling me that I need to relax, but it is challenging, it is up to God, what to do?

A 60 years old widow living with her daughters in a tent outside an official camp. Does she feel safe outside the camp? [7]

We are exhausted sitting home all the time, and it is difficult for those who are not used to it to always remain inside the tent. It has been six years, and we are here, and now it is very hard. We suffered a lot because of ISIS, and now we are also suffering because of the Corona, maybe we are suffering even more than when we arrived here. When we ran from ISIS and came here, there were many people and NGOs that were helping us. Before the Corona pandemic, some NGOs would visit us and help us. In December an NGO gave us money, and we bought sheeting to cover our tent. Now there is no help at all. No one has helped us since March. The tent is in a terrible condition, and it needs to be changed. It is poverty we are living in. They give aid to the people inside the camps, but nothing is given to those living outside. Those NGOs who helped us before left because of the Corona. Everyone is sitting at home. I wish the Iraqi government would do something for us to get us back to our lands in Sinjar, the wind is moving our tents and the heat is unbearable. I am old; I will be at risk if I get the virus, it is very difficult we are not used to this. Corona affected us a lot.

There are no work opportunities, my oldest daughter finished college, she could have worked in a restaurant or a shop or with an NGO, but everything stopped.

I tell my daughters to be strong and to leave it to God, behind their back I cry; I cry a lot. God is great, and he can help us; he can get out from this difficulty.

Tents are surrounding us here; people are sitting in front of them; they don’t go to anyone except for emergencies. We don’t go out; we are imprisoned. Day after day, the situation is getting worse. Women are more affected during these difficult times, no food, the children are so young, there is no money. We say the man is a guest in the house coming and going out the house all the time, but women bear all the difficulties inside the home

A 38 years old widow, mother of 7 children. [8]

My seven children and I live in a tent in the camp. My husband died from hunger and thirst during the genocide.

We can barely handle this situation. The life in the camp is very bad; I don’t have a man, it is very difficult. I don’t work, what can I do, my oldest daughter and son were working in the tahini and pickles factories, but there is no work anymore, because of the Corona, work places are shut. There is nowhere for us to go, only staying inside the camp.

We have been imprisoned in our tents. All of us are in the tent. Three of my children were in the orphanage. I took them there because they were providing them with a good life and education, better than here. My youngest daughter needs an operation for her leg. The bone of her leg is not in the right place, she was supposed to have surgery in March, but roads are closed because of Covid. There is a specific committee that was supposed to take care of my daughter’s operation; I don’t know what they are called. We are waiting. I talked to the committee, and they said they would do the surgery in September, but I am not sure if it is going to happen. We are eight family members. Today there was a food distribution, and I got nothing; they said my name wasn’t on the list. I am a widow, and I have seven children and cannot do anything, I complained to the camp manager, but nothing happened.

I cannot return to Sinjar, why would I go, the houses are destroyed, I cannot go and rebuild our house. Some of those who returned have had the chance to work with the army or the NGOs which are still in Sinjar: just like in the camp, those who are lucky are lucky everywhere. Some of my children went to school before, but today being very poor, and without father, they no longer want to go to school.

Since the Corona outbreak and we are staying inside, some say the illness is a lie, and some say it is not. Only God knows how it is. I am not scared if death comes; we cannot run away from it. People in the camp were terrified, many didn’t want anyone to go to their houses. Those who had money bought masks and sanitizers, but many didn’t buy anything, we didn’t because we didn’t have money. Corona made everything more complicated. If there had been no Corona, my child would have had an operation for her leg now, and my children would have worked, we wouldn’t have needed anyone. All roads are closed in our face. The children are inside the tent, all that I have is the hope that this will pass. This is just life, keeping our hearts pure, and hopefully, nothing bad will happen, Inshallah, and God will protect us Yazidis and everyone else.

The corona lockdown has just been lifted in KRI. The virus has spread vastly recently. Some case have been detected in thecamps. The already fragile mental health of their Yazidi inhabitants has worsened, as they fear that COVID-19 will spread in the camps, knowing it will be a disaster due to their miserable living condition,.

This is why Yazidis say “our genocide is still ongoing”


[1]The Yazidi Genocide: A Personal Perspective, 2018. See:

[2] Coronavirus in Iraq adds to Yazidi community's trauma, 2020. See:

[3] The families of the prisoners have had to pay a heavy ransom to Isis to release them and they often sold everything they had and borrowed the rest.

[4] The three women interviewed fled as ISIS advanced, they were never captured. Thenames are not the real names of the women as they don’t want their identity to be revealed.

[5] Interview on 10 August 2020.

[6] Around $ 95

[7] Interview on 4 August 2020.

[8] Interview on 1 August 2020.