U.S.-backed Syrian forces fighting Islamic State militants said they freed more than 12 Yazidi children from IS last week. The children were released when the Syrian Democratic Forces evacuated civilians from the town of Baghuz. The children had been held by the militant group for years.
Mustafa Bali is a spokesman for the Kurdish-led alliance. He wrote in a social media tweet, "Among many children saved from [IS] territory today, a group of Yazidi children also arrived to safe areas."
Yazidis are a Kurdish-speaking religious minority who live mostly in northern Iraq. They are viewed as infidels by IS extremists.
Sex slaves, soldiers
In August 2014, IS militants attacked Sinjar in northern Iraq, then home to the largest Yazidi community in the world. At least 5,000 Yazidis were killed during the attack, mostly men and boys. IS militants then kidnapped thousands of Yazidi children and women and made them work as child soldiers or sex slaves.
The 12 children recently freed in Baghuz are now in a special home near Hasaka, a Kurdish-held area in northeast Syria.
"I was held for more than four years," said Mazin Salim, 14, a former captive.
"Along with many other Yazidi children, I was then taken to a location in Syria. I believe it was Aleppo. After staying there for a few months, they (moved) us to Raqqa," he added.
Islamic State made Raqqa its capital. The city was taken from IS by the SDF with support from the U.S.-led coalition in October 2017.
The Yazidi teenager said that while he was held, IS brainwashed him with its extremist ideology.
"In the beginning, they would beat me every day because I didn't know Arabic and didn't know anything about Islam," Salim explained. "But slowly, they taught me how to read… from the Quran."
While it controlled parts of Syria and Iraq, IS forced brainwashed and abused children to carry out suicide attacks, kill civilians and perform other cruel acts.
"I checked up on all of these children," said Shahin Hossein, a Kurdish doctor. He has been providing medical care to the Yazidi children since their arrival. "All of them have … psychological problems."
Hossein also said some of the children have been suffering from physical illnesses for a long time without receiving any treatment.
Since the battle to capture Baghuz began, SDF fighters have been better able to find Yazidi children and women.
“Since all civilians are leaving Baghuz, it is easier to identify Yazidis as they come out of the town," SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali told VOA.
Yazidi children and women are taken to a location that is separate from refugee camps for the other civilians fleeing IS.
"Our job is to receive them, give them medical treatment and then…. return to Sinjar," said Mahmoud Resho. He is part of Yazidi House Council, a local organization that supports Yazidi refugees and captives.
"So far, we have a total of 25 children and a woman who are waiting to go to their families in Sinjar," Resho told VOA.
Resho said the Iraqi government has recently closed its border with Syria. "That's why these people have been waiting for a while," he added.
Uncertainty about families
The Yazidi children rescued from IS in Syria have other problems as well. Many do not know where their families are now, Resho said.
"These kids have been kidnapped for almost five years. Some of their families are either killed or have migrated to Europe," he said.
Fourteen-year-old Salim says he does not know what he will find when he returns to Sinjar. “I miss my family so much,” he said. But he does not know whether they are alive or dead.
I'm Susan Shand.
VOA’s Sirwan Kajjo reported this story. Susan Shand adapted it for VOA Learning English. Kelly Jean Kelly was the editor.
Write to us in the Comments Section or on our Facebook page.
Words in This Story
evacuate – v. to remove someone from a dangerous place
infidel – n. a person who does not believe in a religion that someone regards as the true religion
teenager – n. a boy or girl between the ages of 13-18.
cruel – adj. used to describe people who hurt others and do not feel sorry about it
psychological – adj. of or relating to the mind