Yazidi tribal leaders and organisations have called on the international community to do more to investigate the fate of thousands of women and children still missing after being kidnapped by Isis.
Dozens from the small religious minority have been rescued over the last few months as the Isis caliphate has been reduced to a small patch of land in the eastern Syrian village of Baghouz. But more than 3,000 are still unaccounted for, and with the battle nearly over, time is running out to find answers.
The discovery of a mass grave on the edge of the village this week, in an area recently recaptured from Isis, has raised fears that many of the missing may not have not survived their captivity. An investigation is currently under way into who the victims were.
“We call on the coalition forces, namely the US and all other troops that fight Isis under the leadership of the coalition, to discover the destiny of victims and help to return the prisoners soon,” said a statement from the Yazidi leaders, according to the news website Kurdistan 24.
“We also call on the Foreign Ministry of Iraq to shoulder the responsibility it has on its citizens to search for the Yazidi girls and return the bodies of the martyrs or their remains through their relations with the concerned governments,” it added.
The mass grave found a few days ago contains the remains of men and women, but the total number of victims is unclear.
"Investigation is still underway to determine their nationality and the manner of killing," said Adnan Afrin, a spokesman for the Syrian Democratic Forces. He added that they were looking into reports that they may be Yazidis or Isis fighters.
For years now, Yazidi groups have called for more efforts to be made to rescue their missing.
"It is outrageous that thousands of our women and girls have been missing since 2014 and it has not been a priority or main area of discussion with the Global Coalition and the international community," said Pari Ibrahim, founder of the Free Yazidi Foundation.
"We can understand that this is a war zone situation, and because of that, maybe locating and rescuing the women is very difficult. So we understand and appreciate that," she told The Independent. "But we still feel that this should have been considered important and necessary. Instead, our women and girls were being tortured in excruciating agony, month after month, year after year."
In the summer of 2014, shortly after Isis declared its caliphate, the group carried out a murderous rampage against the Yazidi people in their traditional homeland in northern Iraq.
The attackers killed thousands, and took more than 6,000 women and children as slaves. The UN would later declare the attack on Sinar, and the ongoing enslavement of Yazidi women, a genocide.
Images of thousands fleeing to the top of Mount Sinjar prompted the US to launch its first airstrikes against Isis, paving the way for the creation of an international coalition to destroy the group’s caliphate.
Nearly five years later, that battle is almost over. The caliphate is now little more than a field of tents, where only the most hardened fighters remain.
Over the past two months, tens of thousands of civilians have fled the shrinking territory. Yazidi captives, who had been unable to flee for years, have been leaving with civilians.
Earlier this week, Reuters reported two young Yazidi girls leaving Baghouz on a truck with phone numbers written on their arms. And a group of 11 Yazidi boys left the territory and taken back to Iraq after years in captivity.
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