Yazidi children escaping ISIS don't recognize relatives, have forgotten language: reporter

A few years ago, ISIS held territory spanning two countries, and controlled the lives of millions. Now the group's defeat seems inevitable, as Kurdish forces surround the militants' last stronghold: a village in eastern Syria. We discuss what happens next, from the fate of the refugees fleeing the caliphate, to the fighters who propped it up.

Yazidi women and children freed after years, as forces close in on last ISIS village

In Duhok, Iraq, relatives hug a young Yazidi survivor following his release from Islamic State militants in Syria, on March 2, 2019. (Ari Jalal/Reuters)
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The end of ISIS is being proclaimed as both imminent and inevitable, but the ordeal is far from over for the thousands of Yazidi women and children finally escaping the caliphate's clutches.

"Some of them have been beaten, many of them have been raped," said Jane Arraf, an international correspondent for National Public Radio.

"Some of the children have been with families who made them forget their original language, Kurdish, who made them forget their original names," she told The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

"So it's extremely disorientating."

In August 2014, ISIS trucks drove into Yazidi villages in northern Iraq, with the aim of wiping out people they refer to as "kafir," a derogatory term for "unbelievers." Within days, thousands of men had been killed, with thousands more women and girls sold into sexual slavery and boys taken as child soldiers.

Black plumes of smoke rise in Baghouz, Syria, on March 3. A spokesperson for the Kurdish forces said the battle for Baghouz is 'going to be over soon.' (Rodi Said/Reuters)

That was at the height of ISIS's power, when the group held territory spanning two countries, and controlled the lives of millions.

Now, the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are closing in on the militant's last stronghold, the village of Baghouz in eastern Syria. On Monday, 3,000 people were evacuated from the village, the majority civilians and around 200 Islamic State militants.

Arraf was recently in Sinjar, Iraq, where Yazidi survivors who escaped earlier are being reunited with their families.

"There are lots of relatives who have come to this remote point on the Syrian-Iraqi border to meet them,' she said.

"It's both joyous and bittersweet because a lot of these children, particularly, don't recognize their relatives.

"A lot of them don't realize that some of their relatives have been killed, and some of them are the only survivors from entire families."

The final scrap of ISIS-held territory could fall any day now. But that's triggered feverish debate over where things go from here. The CBC's Ellen Mauro spoke to active service members and experts to get an idea of where Washington stands now, and what comes next. 2:37

She said she saw one 13-year-old boy who had been trained as a child fighter.

"He was being trained in Kalashnikovs and other guns to kill Yazidis — his own people," she told Tremonti.

Despite this, reunions at the refugee camps can also be "the liveliest" of welcomes.

"Every Yazidi who comes back is a joyful thing because so many of them have been missing," she said.

Click 'listen' near the top of the page to hear the full conversation.


Written by Padraig Moran. Produced by Alison Masemann and Samira Mohyeddin.