In the sweltering summer heat of Duhok, in Iraq’s Kurdistan region, American retiree Amy L. Beam spends her days making lists.
She documents the names of the hundreds upon hundreds of Yazidi women abducted by the Islamic State (IS) militant group over a year ago who are being desperately sought by their families.
An independent volunteer helping a new project called Liberation Of Christian And Yazidi Children Of Iraq (CYCI), Beam uses her lists to help locate and liberate women and girls held as sex slaves by IS.
CYCI is the brainchild of Steve Mamon, a businessman from Montreal, Canada. All of the money raised is used to pay for the liberation of Yazidi and Christian women from IS captivity.
Mamon began the project last year, initially asking members of his local Sephardic Jewish community in Montreal to help. In July, he launched a public fund-raising campaign via the GoFundMe website that as of August 17 had raised almost $395,000.
The inspiration for the project was Oskar Schindler, a German industrialist who saved the lives of over a thousand Jews during the Holocaust.
“When we say ‘Never again’ as Jews, we really mean ‘Never again,'” CYCI volunteer Kelly Amram told RFE/RL by telephone. “If Schindler did what he did to save Jews, we can’t sit back and be silent.”
Ethics In Time Of Slavery
Some have questioned whether it is ethical to buy the captive women’s freedom.
“Are you using this money to purchase these people from ISIS [another common acronym for IS]? Essentially, is this money being used to promote the human traffic trade?” a commenter named Brandon Wade asked CYCI via its GoFundMe page.
CYCI insists that the money does not go to IS but to middlemen. Beam describes these as local Arabs or Kurds who act as negotiators or brokers who have essentially made a business out of buying Yazidi women from militants and facilitating their escape back to their families for a fee. It is impossible to independently verify the extent of the middlemen’s role in the trade around Yazidi captives, however.
The risks are high and several brokers have been killed in recent weeks, according to Canon Andrew White, a former pastor in Baghdad who has lent his personal support to the project.
And there is simply “no other way” to rescue the women, White insists.
“If you don’t buy them back, then they get used and destroyed.”
Escape From Hell
There are two main ways that women escape their IS captors, according to Beam.
The first way is harder — and rarer. A woman is able to obtain a phone from an IS militant — a risky undertaking as IS confiscated their captives’ phones — and call her family, who sets up her rescue. The woman has to make her own escape from the militant or household where she is being held and meet her rescuer, a broker.
“But it’s very hard to escape. Under IS control, women don’t walk around outside alone,” Beam told RFE/RL by Skype from Duhok.
Women who are caught trying to escape are beaten and punished.
The second way is more common, and reflects the extent to which the trade in, and systematic rape of, Yazidi women has become an integral part of IS’s organization and theology.
A militant buys a Yazidi woman and tries to use her for sex. But the woman resists being raped; she fights back. At first, the militant beats her up. Maybe he ties her up so she can’t fight. Maybe he gags her. But she keeps fighting. Or else she cries all the time and is suicidal.
“Even for a rapist, sex loses its reward if he has to beat the woman unconscious every time,” says Beam.
Brokers charge around $2,000-$3,000 to liberate a single Yazidi woman, Beam says.
But the Yazidi refugees in Duhok and Turkey don’t have any money. And the close-knit nature of Yazidi society means that many people have more than one family member in captivity, so the price is even higher.
The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has said it reimburses local Yazidi communities who pay middlemen to rescue women, but families still have to find the cash up front. And with Iraq in chaos, Beam says that the KRG’s reimbursements have dried up.
CYCI’s goal is to raise enough money to rescue all those women, says volunteer Amram.
Many people want to help the Yezidi people who were viciously attacked, slaughtered, and kidnapped last August in Shingal, Iraq, but they do not know who to trust with a donation. I have sat in the tents and one-room container homes of many Yezidi women who have escaped from being held prisoners of war by so-called Islamic State (IS, ISIS, or ISIL) rapists. They tell of being severely beaten, bloodied, tied, and repeatedly raped, then sold to another man because they refused to willingly submit.
Every dollar goes toward the release of those held prisoner by ISIS. Please share the link and ask your friends to share it.
Not one person is taking one dollar for himself or herself. The volunteers have been working in an emergency mode every waking hour since August 2014. Their own businesses and families have suffered, but they refuse to stop.
If you prefer your donation to be used for Yezidis who have already escaped or are displaced persons in the camps in Kurdistan or the refugee camps in Turkey, you may donate to the Kocho Shingal Fund using PayPal. Donations are managed by me, Amy Beam.
Except for PayPal’s 3.2% fee, every dollar will be used directly for Yezidis. Alternative sites for fund-raising charge 8% and more. Please include a note on the PayPal payment page, “donation for Yezidis”. You may add any additional instructions for use of your donation.
I have added this PayPal payment method because so many people have written to me and asked to donate and have trusted me to use their donation for Yezidis because I have been on-location reporting on the Yezidi genocide since August 2014. With the first $70 dollars donated last October, I bought 14 stove burners for warming milk and water for babies.
One young mother of two toddlers under age 3 escaped last week. She explained emphatically, “There’s nothing I need. I don’t need money, clothes, a car, a house. I only need one thing: to leave Iraq forever.”
A dozen women with their two-year-old children were in the room listening to her story and offering support. The reason all the escaped children are under age three is because when ISIS captured the Yezidis, they killed the adult males and gave the children over age two to ISIS families to brainwash and train to fight in ISIS. Some of these stolen children have been used as suicide bombers. Many can be seen in ISIS YouTube propaganda videos obediently lined up in rows, studying the Koran and learning to shoot a gun.
My translator, Erivan Mahdi, herself a young Yezidi female volunteer who has listened to the harrowing stories of 200 escaped women, explained, “Every single woman and child in this room has escaped from ISIS.”
So I bought a large shoulder bag for each woman in anticipation of the day she and her children will board a plane to another country.
But so far, governments have not implemented any special enabling immigration policies for these Yezidi women and their children. Only a few programs such as one in Badden-Werttenburg, Germany, will accept traumatized women and children. The program is coordinated by Dr. Michael Blume in Germany and Dr. Mirza Dinnayi in Kurdistan. It will take only 1000 people
Those who have courage and financial resources have paid $5,000 to $11,000 US dollars per person to go illegally to Germany where they then apply for asylum.
It is meaningless for governments to say, “We won’t send Yezidis back if they arrive here and apply for asylum.” Countries must provide a legal and safe immigration policy to accept the displaced Yezidis.
Please contact your government officials and present them with proposals to establish special programs, VISA policies, and resettlement funds to accept Yezidis from Iraq, especially those who have suffered trauma from IS captivity.
Please help by sharing this story with your local papers and on social media. Your donations will be spent entirely on Yezidis.
Proceeds from book sales benefit Free Yezidi Fund