At the end of 2016 SOS Children's Villages started a pilot project for women and children in northern Iraq. There are countless Yazidi women and children currently living in refugee camps in northern Iraq. They have been severely traumatised by their experiences. They have been attacked, displaced and abused by the Islamic State (Isis). The SOS Children's Villages project in the Khanke refugee camp aims to help children and families re-establish their lives and give them a future.
Over a million internally displaced persons
Yazidi children in the Khanke refugee camp in northern Iraq (Photo: Ralph Gladitz)
The Republic of Iraq borders on Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, Turkey, Iran and the Persian Gulf. The Autonomous Region of Kurdistan is located in the north of the country.
Iraq is in a permanent state of crisis. According to the Fragile States Index, the country continues be in the ‘very high alert’ category, ranking number 11 after states like Afghanistan, Somalia and South Sudan.
Due to ongoing conflicts in various parts of the country, over a million Iraqis have been displaced and have sought refuge in one of the three provinces of Kurdistan.
In addition, the conflict in neighbouring Syria has led to an enormous influx of Syrian refugees, of whom 98% are now living in refugee camps in Kurdish administrative districts.
Kurdistan and the Yazidi people
The Autonomous Region of Kurdistan has a population of 5.5 million. Northern Iraq is the heartland of the Yazidis, an ethnic Kurdish cultural group. They practise the religion of Yazidism, an ancient Kurdish faith influenced by Zoroastrianism. Prior to August 2014 around 700,000 Yazidis lived in and around the city of Sinjar and in the mountain region of the same name; around 200,000 Yazidis have settled elsewhere in the world.
Genocide and mass exodus
Trauma therapy helps children to work through the horrific experiences. (Photo: Katharina Ebel)
In August 2014 Isis began the occupation of the Sinjar region, triggering a Yazidi exodus from the area. The Jihadists started a violent process of ethnic cleansing amounting to genocide.
Countless men and young people over the age of 14 were murdered; boys were captured and trained as child soldiers. Women were shot, raped, enslaved. The United Nations believes that Isis abducted around 3,500 Yazidis, mostly women and children, many of whom are still in captivity.
In total, over 6,800 people were officially reported abducted. Around half have now returned, severely traumatised, or had their freedom bought. But many mothers are still waiting for their sons and husbands to this day. Countless families, particularly the children, experienced terrible traumas and suffer deeply as a result.
SOS Children's Villages in Iraq
SOS Children's Villages has begun an aid programme in the Khanke refugee camp near Dohuk.
- Trauma treatment of 800 children and young people. With the help of various techniques, severely traumatised victims of Isis learn how to regain control of their thoughts, emotions and reactions. Children are given intensive support and assistance over a number of months.
- Training local volunteers to become counsellors who can provide effective help for the children in coping with their terrible experiences.
- Professional training for 20 Iraqi psychologists in providing trauma therapy to children.
- Vocational training for 300 Yazidi mothers and young women. Widows who have lost their husbands acquire new prospects. SOS Children's Villages provides support for the women to earn a living.
- Play therapy activities which promote tolerance, communication and a sense of community amongst the children. An SOS Children's Villages’ kindergarten in the Khanke refugee camp offers boys and girls a place to play and learn where they can experience normality and just be children.
- Reading and writing courses for adults and courses in hygiene, communication and imparting values.
- Mobile teams will in the future also reach children in hard-to-access areas and train teachers locally.