AMUDA, Syria – Amina Kalo was one of the last Yazidis to leave Baghuz, the final Islamic State terror organization outpost in Syria, but now she faces a long journey back to the home where she was kidnapped from by the extremist group almost five-years-ago, a challenge she shares with thousands of others.
Forced to convert to Islam, she wears a blue veil that matches her penetrating eyes.
In an interview with EFE in the Syrian town of Amuda, near the Turkish border, her gaze is fixed as she narrates the ordeal she went through.
“We remained in Baghuz for seven days during the bombings. We waited for them to get us out of there, but no one came to help,” the 42-year-old said from a Yazidi House, the only refuge in Kurdish-majority northern and eastern Syria set up specifically to welcome the members of this persecuted religious minority who have been rescued from the ranks of the IS.
Kalo, originally from the Iraqi village of Kocho, is one of the nearly 7,000 women and children abducted by IS in Aug. 2014 from Sinjar, a town located in the northwestern part of Iraq which is considered the cradle of this tiny ancestral community whose faith is linked to Zoroastrianism.
Some 3,000 Yazidis are still missing to this day.
In 2014, a group of IS militants broke into Sinjar, where they killed 5,000 men and left hundreds of thousands of people displaced, an attack recognized by the United Nations as genocide.
“We were in Baghuz with several families of jihadists, we asked to go out with these families, but the jihadists told us they were going to turn us in after delivering their families,” she said.
She said she finally decided to leave with other Yazidis and managed to make it as far as Baghuz mountain, where the extremists entrenched themselves during the final days of the battle after they lost control of the town to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an ethnically-mixed militia led by Kurds that drove IS out from all its territories in north and east Syria.
Kalo said that her group was hit by a mortar shell and a child died. They then asked one of the IS fighters to take them to positions belonging to the SDF, who, in turn, evacuated them from Baghuz.
Kalo said all she wanted now was to return home to be with her family.
She said that her kidnappers had forced to carry out “difficult jobs,” although declined to elaborate what was required of her under the yoke of the extremists.
Two other rescued Yazidis, Bateza Hiso and Khala Ismail, will accompany her on the way back.
The women of this community have suffered abuses of all kinds by IS. Turned into “sex slaves,” they were sold at a high price to any terrorist who would pay for them.
Also seeking refuge in the Yazidi House, was five-year-old Mohamed Yamil. His parents were killed in a bombing in the eastern Syrian province of Deir al-Zour.
He looked down at his cellphone and opened some photographs, he pointed out Abdullah and Youssef, two Yazidi children he said he lived with while in Baghuz.
He told EFE that he left that town with other Yazidi children and their mothers, but that he was not related to them. Yamil was “adopted” by the families of the community after he became an orphan.
From the refuge in Amuda, he awaits a guardian since no-one has been able to locate his family in Iraq.
His relatives are members of the Shia branch Islam, which has a smaller number of followers worldwide – after Sunni Islam – but is the prevailing interpretation in Iraq.
Wearing numerous layers for the cold and rainy weather, Yamil gave a little smile and hid in the lap of the woman who has taken care of him for weeks.
Jan Ilhan Kizilhan, a university professor in Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany, and Dohuk, Iraq, who has treated more than 1,400 young people forced into sexual slavery by the extremists, told EFE that the social rules in the Yazidi community have been altered to eschew the taboo surrounding those who have been raped by IS militants.
“The problem is the children,” he said, since children fathered by militants would be “Muslims” and could not be accepted by the community, the specialist added.
He said that he knew that it had been the case for about 10-12 women, who had to leave their children with Muslim families in Mosul, in Iraq, and Deir al-Zour and Raqqa, both in Syria, among other areas.
Kizilhan is in charge of a program to bring these women and children to Europe, specifically to countries like Germany and Spain, given the poor medical and psychological support on offer to them in Iraq.
This stigmatization and rejection of children born after rape adds to the huge challenge that these women face in their bid to return to a semblance of a normal life.