Duhok, Iraq – It was midnight when Vian’s phone rang. A person with a trembling voice on the other end of the line said, “I miss my mum so much!” and then burst into tears.
The caller was Salwa Saido, 24, a survivor of the genocide carried out by ISIL (ISIS). She hails from Tel Qasab village in Sinjar, a district in northwestern Iraq that is the ancestral home of Iraq’s Yazidi community.
Like thousands of Yazidi women and girls, Salwa was captured along with her mother and two siblings following ISIL’s attack on Sinjar in August 2014. Although she is now free, after five years in captivity, the fate of her mother, brother and sister is unknown to this day.
Vian Darwish is an Advocacy and Outreach Officer with Yazda, an NGO that advocates for the rights of religious and ethnic minorities in Iraq, including in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region, and Syria.
The assistance provided to survivors so far has come primarily from humanitarian organisations and the international community, active in areas with a high concentration of internally displaced Yazidis.
The Iraq government has provided one-off financial support to address urgent needs through the Yazidi Survivors’ Grant, and social welfare payments to a limited number of survivors. Yet most remain without this type of support and continue to live in precarious conditions, which only deepens their trauma and vulnerabilities.
In March 2021, the Iraqi parliament passed a “Law on Support to Yazidi Female Survivors,” hailed as a landmark piece of legislation – the first of its kind in Iraq, whereby different acts of sexual violence in conflict are recognised as acts of genocide and put at the centre of legislation.
The law provides for reparations to be paid to the survivors of sexual violence, and several other categories of victims. It includes provisions to address many of their needs through support in areas including physical and mental health, housing, livelihoods, employment and resuming education, among others.
However, challenges to the law’s implementation are numerous, many stemming from the current tense political situation and a lack of budgetary allocations. The Directorate for Survivors Affairs, a body established to implement this law, is seeking resources to launch the application process that individual survivors must go through to benefit.
While waiting for justice and reparations in the aftermath of the genocide, everyday life for survivors is filled with painful memories and a lack of hope.
This photo gallery was provided by the International Organization for Migration (IOM).