2014-08-26

Turkey's civil society lends assistance to Yezidi refugees

With extremists in Iraq creating a chaotic and brutal environment for Yezidis, thousands of them fled to Turkey, but are still concerned for their safety.

By Menekse Tokyay for SES Türkiye in Istanbul -- 26/08/14

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With the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) staging on-going attacks in Iraq and capturing the towns of Sinjar and Rabia, thousands of Yezidis have sought refuge in Turkey's southeastern provinces of Mardin, Batman, Diyarbakir and Sirnak.

  • Thousands of Iraqi Yezidis have fled to various locations in Turkey, including this refugee camp near the Turkey-Iraq border at Silopi in Sirnak. [AFP]

    Thousands of Iraqi Yezidis have fled to various locations in Turkey, including this refugee camp near the Turkey-Iraq border at Silopi in Sirnak. [AFP]

  • An Iraqi Yezidi woman rinses her hands with water at a refugee camp at Silopi in Sirnak. [AFP]

    An Iraqi Yezidi woman rinses her hands with water at a refugee camp at Silopi in Sirnak. [AFP]

About 2,000 Yezidi refugees from Iraq have crossed the Habur border gate and are being sheltered in tents and solidarity houses in villages that are home to their Yezidi peers.

Turkey's government is sheltering Yezidi refugees in a camp in Mardin, which was previously constructed for Syrian refugees and then vacated, while the Sanliurfa municipality is sheltering 3,000 Yezidis in a camp.

The health of all refugees has been monitored by Turkey health officials.

Considering the immediate needs of Yezidis, many NGOs and civil activists in Turkey are organising aid campaigns.

"It is a serious humanitarian drama," Vildan Yirmibesoglu, an Istanbul lawyer who is working on social problems facing the Yezidi community, told SES Türkiye.

Yirmibesoglu spent more than two weeks in Yezidi villages in Batman and Mardin to establish contact with displaced people and organise charity campaigns to help meet their essential needs.

"For the moment, they are living under suboptimal conditions, they don't even have one sleeping pad for each. And also there is a problem in organising the pouring aid from every corner of the country. The authorities should design a much more efficient mechanism for that," Yirmibesoglu said.

Yirmibesoglu added that there is a strong collaboration with the nearby villages where farmers have provided refugees with key needs like refrigerators.

"Their immediate demand is health," she said. "There are sick children and women. They have witnessed the war and their soul is still imprinted with the effects of that tragedy. Authorities should provide these people with immediate psychological support."

Turkey's emergency management authority (AFAD) recently established a refugee camp in northern Iraq for about 2,250 Yezidis, initially with 45 tents, in Zakho near the Turkey-Iraq border.

Officials expect to increase the number of tents to 100 soon, and are constructing another camp with 100 tents in the Bersive district of Zakho.

Turkey's Red Crescent sent 10,000 blankets and 10,000 sleeping pads and a truckload of drinking water and biscuits to Yezidis in Sirnak province, where the supplies were distributed to the refugees under the control of AFAD.

Municipalities like western city of Canakkale and Istanbul's Besiktas, the Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects (TMMOB), the Women's Initiative for Peace, Kimse Yok Mu (Is Nobody There?) Association, and many independent philanthropists have donated aid to Yezidi refugees.

Diyarbakir municipality has organised workshops and pre-school education for Yezidi refugee children ages 4 to 13. In an effort to help children recover from the trauma of war, the workshops include drama, painting, music, sport, cinema and many other outdoor activities.

Uncle Talo, who did not divulge his surname because he is concerned for his family's safety, told SES Türkiye he took shelter in Batman city a couple weeks ago after having walked for miles from his hometown.

"First we settled in a hotel with my family, then our Yezidi brothers in Turkey invited us to their villages. We are now in a country that we don't know the language, the culture and the people," said Uncle Talo, a brown-haired man in his 60s who still holds the scar of war in his eyes.

"We are so grateful for the material assistance that Turkish authorities and civil society provided us. However, if people really want to help us, they should make efforts so that we can return to our hometown in safety," he added.

Uncle Talo doesn't want to stay in Turkey for a long time.

"If the war is definitely over, we would love to return to our hometown that is sacred for us. Otherwise, we are planning to join our relatives in European countries," he said.

"When I close my eyes," Uncle Talo added, "I still see that massacre and people fluttering around to save their lives. I still have the deep trauma that ISIL may seize my daughters. It is because of that we took shelter in Yezidi villages in Turkey because we are scared. Turkish authorities should provide us with state protection because we are still concerned that even here we can be massacred by ISIL militants."

Berna Bulut, a representative of the Yezidi residents in Batman, said Yezidi people have suffered greatly, even though they have been a primary component in the region.

"While putting the sufferings of Yezidi refugees under the spotlight, Turkish authorities should also consider our on-going problems," Bulut told SES Türkiye. "For instance, the religion section in our identity cards is still blank, while we have not been invited to any of the governmental meetings with the representatives of different religious groups."

Bulut also said the flow of Yezidi refugees in the region highlights the need for an immediate social integration plan and state protection.

"There is still no security measure in the villages where they reside," she added. "The houses where they are settled are in a very bad situation. And, as always, the primary victims of wars are still women and children."

What steps should Turkey's humanitarian aid agencies and NGOs take to assist Yezidi refugees? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

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