As the last patch of the ISIS “caliphate” in Syria crumbles, thousands of civilians have been fleeing the final battle zone in recent weeks – among them, more than a dozen Yazidi women who have spent years in the torturous confines of sexual slavery.
“I wish I could bring (ISIS) and burn them like I burned my clothes,” one Yazidi survivor Israa, 20, said last week as she stripped off her mandated black burqa, joining several other Yazidi survivors in burning the black garb. “Now I’ve arrived and I’ve taken it off and burned it and finished with it, thank God.”
For those women, the escape from such oppressive rule is a bittersweet one – the road to recovery is long, and many of community remain at-large.
In the summer of 2014, soon after ISIS overran large swaths of Iraq and Syria, ISIS swarmed Iraq’s Sinjar Mountain – the ancestral home of the Yazidis, an ethnic minority hardline Islamists had long considered to be “devil worshippers.”
Thousands of girls and women were captured and sold off as sex slaves to ISIS fighters, disappearing into the dark pockets of ISIS territorial control. Furthermore, thousands of men were slain and dumped into mass graves now littering the Iraqi landscape. Boys were taken in and brainwashed into being ISIS fighters – often drugged, indoctrinated and used as human shields as battles intensified.
The brutal campaign against the Yazidis was officially deemed a genocide by the U.S in 2016.
But late last year, as the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces continued to close in on the final ISIS stronghold, reducing their breadth to a few towns and villages dotted along the Euphrates River, a sense of hope surged that some 3,000 Yazidis unaccounted for would emerge.
That hope, many community activists say, is fading as only a small number of Yazidis have come out from the final frontier.