Heat, Dust & Hope - Report from Khanke IDP Camp
Khanke IDP camp
For five years, the Yezidi community has been highlighting the plight of our displaced people in Iraq. FYF has brought to you many stories from the Khanke camp for internally displaced people. Khanke is not the typical place one might choose to spend an afternoon, let alone years. Yet for 28,000 Yezidis, this is a temporary refuge. Tents, huts, and makeshift shelters stretch as far as the eye can see. Nestling on a dusty stretch of plain, the temperature regularly reaches 108 F (42 C) in the summer. Now in September, the heatwaves of August are beginning to subside, leaving a scorched feeling behind. In the camp, residents already start to worry about the coming winter months. Floods, cold, and the dangers of tent fires will worry Yezidi IDPs in the coming months. The protection against the heat and the cold is a thin fabric tent. Those who use gas heaters take serious risk in their efforts to combat the cold, and the tents easily catch fire.
To the north of Khanke, one can see the mountains that separate Iraq from Turkey. Along that ridge the flames of oil wells and the shapes of Yezidi temples dot the skyline. Battles have been fought for millennia for control of this and neighboring lands, hardly a comfort to the Yezidis, who are the original inhabitants and have struggled to find safety and security here.
Thirty minutes’ drive away is the bustling city of Duhok, with its shopping malls, restaurants, and traffic jams. In Khanke, the pace of life is slower, and residents wait to find out if, when, and how it will be safe to return home to Sinjar. Without stability, economic opportunity, and, most importantly, security, return to Sinjar is a hope for another day.
Significant numbers of women and girls who escaped from ISIS captivity are living in tents and huts like these ones in Khanke. The Yezidi boys who escaped captivity were brainwashed and indoctrinated by ISIS. They struggle to overcome trauma and confusion now that they have returned to the community. Most of the population fled Sinjar, just in time, in August 2014. All who live here carry with them the memories of the unspeakable medieval acts of barbarism and horror they or their family members endured at the hands of ISIS. Yezidis have survived another attempt of eradication.
Still, in this inhospitable place, there are glimmers of optimism and determination. Among the tents, families and communities discuss the daily news, opportunities and challenges, how to manage in the short term and what to hope for in the long term.
Free Yezidi Foundation Center in Khanke
In the Free Yezidi Foundation center, you can hear the children laugh and women smile again. In a cabin near the playground, the FYF yoga teacher is leading a class and helping women and girls to relax. The staff have been trained in psychological first aid. The 26 FYF ‘Harikara’, or ‘helpers’, are lay workers trained in mental health and psycho-social support. These Harikara are all women. They can be seen throughout the camp, in tents, in huts, and walking the dirt roads, speaking to camp residents. The community respects them, and they help men, women, and children to cope with nightmares and panic attacks. The network reaches across the camp and into the non-camp areas, connecting with families. It is an exercise in kindness, empathy, solidarity, and support. It is also an iron will to deny ISIS its aim of destroying the Yezidi community.
The needs in this camp and the many other camps are immense. FYF and other NGOs play important roles in rebuilding lives, one at a time. Lives change, hope can regrow, and individuals and families can learn to love life again.
Thank you, supporters, for your help in backstopping our work and making sure Yezidi women are able to come to our center, feel safe and heard, and study English, Arabic, ICT, women’s rights, and basic livelihood skills. The courses help women to find jobs, start their own businesses, and improve their chances at economic success. And our children's center also serves as a daycare center so that mothers have a chance to learn, heal, grow, and care for themselves too.
One day, our people will return to Sinjar. Until that time, the best the humanitarian community can do is to provide sustainable, transferrable skills so that our people will have better opportunities, capable of living in dignity and prosperity anywhere they go.
- Pari Ibrahim
Free Yezidi Foundation