Visit to Khanke – a refugee camp for Yezidis in Kurdistan / North of Iraq

Coming from Beirut I arrived yesterday late afternoon in Erbil. It’s the capitol city of the Kurdish state in North Iraq around 80 km south east of Mosul. Since 2014 EKHN is supporting the Jiyan Foundation for Human Rights which is working with refugees in this region.

The Foundation is working in different refugee camps in Kirkuk, Erbil, Sulaymaniyah and Dohuk. Together with the director of Jiyan Foundation Salah Ahmad I went today to Dohuk and visited the refugee camp in Khanke.

The place is north of Mosul and normaly we would have taken the highway passing Mosul. Since June 2014 Mosul is captured by IS and only one week back the Peshmerga and Iraqi troops started a military offensive to get Mosul back. Therefore we avoided the area and took the highways in a quiet distance to Mosul.

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After two and a half hours and 180 km behind us we reached Khanke. In this camp around 3.125 Yezidi families are living – which means around 22.000 people. Many of them could flee from their villages around the Sinjar Mountains in August 2014 when IS started the offensive against their community. Other felt in the hands of IS and were tortured as sex slaves of IS fighters. When they could flee they also searched for shelter in the refugee camps. All these victims and highly traumatized women, men and children Jiyan Foundation tries to help with specialists in trauma therapy.

They have a small office with rooms for therapy in the refugee camp. Under the leadership of Dr. Wahid Ablahad Harmz around 52 patience are in regular treatment and therapy. The very difficult cases will be send to specialists in Dohuk. In some cases the therapy could last for 6 month. „The first step in the therapy of a women who faced rapes and was sold repeatedly like a slave is to give her the feeling that’s not her own fault and to strengthen her self-confidence“, says Dr. Harmz.

In the camp I met Sara (name has been changed). She is a 18 year old Yezidi woman who suffered under the violence of her own father and was married against her will as a young girl to a very brutal man. Together with her family she was one of the first refugees who came to the camp. Now she is under regular therapy through Jiyan Foundation and they are working also with her father and mother. She explains to me that her situation has fundamentally changed. „Nightmares are over, my father changed his habits and I don’t wont to commit suicide any longer,“ she tells me. Now she is trying to get divorced from her husband.

Since the war in Syria began in March 2011 about 4 Million Syrians left there home places. More than 250.000 of them came to the north of Iraq. About 40% are children and 25% women. Most of them are Kurds but also Christian’s. They live now in the provinces of Erbil, Duhok and Sulaymaniyah in huge refugee camps. Many of them are traumatized because of the loss of family members trough bombardments, armed conflicts or tortures during the time in prison. All are suffering under the loss of there homes and daily work. Some are afraid because of the relatives they left behind. They suffer under depression, sleeplessness, panic attacks, aggressions and think about suicide.

Additionally to these refugees from Syria there are more than 3 Million internal Iraqi refugees because of the terror of the so called „Islamic State“ (IS). More than half of them were searching refuge in the region of Iraqi Kurdistan. For the regional Kurdish government this is till today a great challenge. All is missing: food, shelter, education. Only less than 20% of them live in organized refugee camps with a sufficient infrastructure . Many of them are witnesses or victims of terrible brutality. The IS is responsible for massacres, executions, mutilations, rapes and kidnappings which relatives and children experienced. Those who survived are highly traumatized and need professional medical support and psychotherapy. This is what Jiyan Foundation is offering!

Since 2014 the programs of Jiyan Foundation are regularly supported by EKHN. In 2014 till 2016 the support came from a special found the Synod of EKHN established in 2014 for two years especially for the support of refugees in our own region of EKHN but also in conflict zones abroad. Since this year the support is coming out of the regular budget of the department for ecumenical relations.

Some impressions from the camp in Khanke:

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