Yazidi families implore the Iraqi government to speed up mass grave exhumation

Yazidi families implore the Iraqi government to speed up mass grave exhumation

Shafaq News/ On the same day Iraq's government declared May 16th a National Day of Mass Graves, Yazidi families who lost loved ones to ISIS in 2014 urged the authorities to expedite opening mass graves and identify the remains of their loved ones.

Khairyah Ta'alu, a Yazidi woman residing in Shariya camp south of Dohuk, lost four family members. "The government's progress in opening graves and exhuming remains is agonizingly slow," she lamented in a statement to Shafaq News Agency. "Ten years have passed since ISIS's rampage through our hometown. Dozens of graves remain unopened. We yearn for answers about our missing family members."

Jassim Qasim, who lost both his father and brother, shared similar sentiments. "We believe they're buried in a Sinjar mass grave," he said, referring to eyewitness accounts. "However, confirmation has remained elusive. This ordeal must end. We need to bury them in our own cemeteries and finally begin to heal."

Alia Jalal, who lost three relatives, recounted that while authorities collected DNA samples from her family, "specialized teams have yet to locate their remains." She echoed the pleas of others, urging the government to "expedite the search for our family members whose fates remain shrouded in mystery."

It is estimated that Sinjar district has over 80 mass and individual graves. To date, exhumation efforts have been completed at roughly 50 sites.

Sinjar, a mountainous district in northwestern Iraq, is home to a mixed population of Kurds, Arabs, and Yazidis, an ethnic and religious minority. Eighty percent of public infrastructure and 70 percent of homes in Sinjar town, the largest city in the district, were destroyed during the conflict against the extremist armed group Islamic State (also known as ISIS) between 2014 and 2017. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), about 183,000 people from Sinjar remain displaced, including 85 percent of the district’s Yazidi population. At present, 65 percent of towns and villages in Sinjar host half or less than half of their original populations, and 13 towns and villages have not recorded any returns at all since 2014.

The Iraqi Ministry of Migration and Displacement announced the July 30 deadline on January 24. To encourage returns, the Ministry also announced a package of aid and incentives for returnees, including a one-time payment of 4 million Iraqi dinars (about US$3,000) per family, some government jobs, social security benefits, and interest-free small business loans.

On March 19, a delegation from the Prime Minister’s Office visited Chamishko camp in Dohuk. “They outlined three options for IDPs: to return to Sinjar, to relocate to other cities under federal control, or to remain in the KRI but outside the camps,” a teacher and resident of the camp who attended a meeting with the delegation told Human Rights Watch. “But the government should provide compensation for us to rebuild our homes and offer services before expecting us to return.”

Human Rights Watch found in a 2023 report that the main barriers to Sinjaris’ return were the government’s failure to provide compensation for the loss of their property and livelihoods, delayed reconstruction, an unstable security situation, and lack of justice and accountability for crimes and abuses against them.

In May 2023, Human Rights Watch found that not a single person from Sinjar had received financial compensation for the loss of their property and livelihoods as required under Law No. 20 of 2009, with 3,500 approved claims awaiting payment by the Ninewa Finance Department. By February 2024 the number of completed claims had risen to 8,300, and still not a single person had received any payment, Judge Ammar Mohammed, head of the Tel Afar Compensation Committee, which oversees the Sinjar Compensation Sub-Office, told Human Rights Watch.

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