A fire this week ravaged an Iraqi camp for internally displaced Yazidis who survived a genocidal campaign at the hands of the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL).
Thousands of Yazidis, particularly women, remain missing despite the complete fall of the ISIS territorial caliphate in Iraq and Syria in March.
On Tuesday, a fire believed to have been caused by an electrical problem engulfed 20 tents and shelters at the Jamishko camp in the city of Zakho. The city sits in Iraqi Kurdistan’s Dohuk province, located along the Turkish border, Rudaw reported. Northern Iraq is home to the autonomous ruled by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).
“No casualties were reported in the blaze,” Rudaw noted.
“Heavy material losses were incurred in the fire, with families losing furniture, livestock, savings, and state documents critical to accessing health care, schooling, and all other state services,” the news outlet added.
The fire came as Yazidis marked the fifth anniversary of the genocide that came after ISIS invaded the Yazidi-majority Iraqi town of Sinjar in August 2014.
On the anniversary, the non-profit Yazda quoted Yazidi survivor Hala Safil as saying:
More than 80% of the population is suffering from the bitterness of displacement, and our once-secure ar- eas have unfortunately become arenas for conflicts. Little has changed since their liberation. This is a situation of instability and risk that may be disastrous if not addressed with wisdom and decisiveness.
The local Iraqi government has vowed to compensate victims of Tuesday’s fire.
“Those who have incurred damages will be compensated without a question. Burnt tents will quickly be replaced,” Mayor of Zakho Botan Mushin Salih told Rudaw, adding that that residents would be compensated for their lost possessions.
The fire came as ethnoreligious minorities in the region, namely Yazidis and Christians, are trying to restart their lives following the carnage and genocide they faced when ISIS was in power.
“A fire has happened here before, but we were able to put it out with a car fire extinguisher. This time, we didn’t have one [available],” Maamoun Abdi, the manager of the camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) told Rudaw, noting that it started fairly early in the morning around 6:30 am.
Camp residents complained that it took too long for emergency services to reach the scene impacted by the blaze. It reportedly took firefighters 20 minutes to arrive at the camp.
“With great difficulty, we were able to save our children from the fire,” a camp resident who lost her home in the fire told Rudaw.
Had they arrived earlier, the firefighters could have saved many of the charred property, some of the camp residents complained.
Residents urged the KRG to allocate firefighters to the Jamishko camp.
The U.S. and the U.N. have deemed the Yazidis, Christians, and other minorities to be victims of ISIS’ genocide campaign and have devoted funds and other resources to restore their communities.
Approximately 12,000 Yazidis were murdered or abducted by ISIS. An estimated 6,800 Yazidis, mostly women and children, were kidnapped and subjected to prolonged sexual, psychological and physical abuse. ISIS militants also forced Yazidis to convert to Islam and separated younger boys from their families, sending them to re-education camps and then into the frontlines as child soldiers
Although U.S-backed forces decimated the jihadi group’s territorial caliphate, ISIS remains a threat, the Pentagon’s inspector general (IG) warned in a report released Tuesday.
The camp of Jamishko is home to 25,000 Yazidi IDPs who fled the August 2014 ISIS onslaught on ethnoreligious minorities in the heartland of the Yazidi community — Sinjar in Nineveh province.
Nineveh has long been home to a large concentration of minorities in Iraq, including Christians.
Citing KRG statistics, Rudaw notes:
Five years later [after ISIS], the vast majority of Yazidis continue to live in a protracted state of displacement. Of the 400,000 Yazidis displaced by ISIS violence five years ago, 360,000 continue to live in IDP camps.
Yazidis have reportedly expressed fear about returning to their homeland of Sinjar.
Both groups vowed to return Sinjar to the Yazidis once ISIS is defeated, but they continue to remain in the area along with the Iraqi military and Kurdish peshmerga forces.
U.S. President Donald Trump’ administration is trying to help Yazidis and other minorities return to their homeland in Iraq.
Yazidis bore the brunt of ISIS’s genocidal campaign. About 3,000 Yazidi women, many sold into sexual slavery, remain missing, Nadia Murad, a Nobel Peace Prize recipient who survived the genocide noted last month.
The Trump administration has allotted $340 million to support religious minorities in Iraq alone with nation-building efforts of areas devastated by ISIS.