Khalaf Dakheel is a 17-year old Yazidi refugee and journalist living in a camp in Iraqi Kurdistan. A writer for the National Discourse with his work having featured in the Jerusalem Post, he often reports on conditions within the camp and life for its Yazidi residents. I spoke to him about his work and hopes for the future.
UK coverage of what has happened to the Yazidis is limited. What can you tell us about your community?
The Yazidis are one of the most ancient religious groups in the world. Yazidi people have always been peaceful and non-aggressive. We believe in God (Xude), Tawsi Melek (the Peacock angel), and humanity. The holiest place for the Yazidis is Lalish, in Iraqi Kurdistan. Every year, Yazidis go to Lalish and pray.
It has been estimated that 23 million Yazidis have been killed over the past seven hundred years, and the Yazidi population continues to decrease. Just two hundred years ago there were two million Yazidis, but it is now estimated to be less than one million worldwide.
More recently, in 2014, the Yazidis were attacked by ISIS. Yazidi homes, families, and 250 villages were permanently destroyed. Five thousand Yazidi men were murdered, and at least seven thousand Yazidi girls and women were kidnapped and sold into sexual slavery.
Previous to these attacks by ISIS, in August 2007, four trucks filled with explosives were driven into two Yazidi towns. Five hundred Yazidis lost their lives in the attack, another two hundred were gravely injured and 200 children became orphans.
Bersive Camp, Iraqi Kurdistan. Credit: Khalaf Dakheel.
How did you get into journalism, living in a refugee camp?
After all these massacres have happened to the Yazidis, after thousands of Yazidi women and girls have been taken as sex slaves, after thousands of innocent Yazidi men have been killed and after living in IDPs and refugees camps for more than 3 years, most of the world still hasn’t heard about what has happened and what is still happening. I decided to be a journalist to tell the world how the Yazidis have been suffering and how we have been living in terrible conditions, and to also show the world what happened to our innocent girls abducted by ISIS.
I was contacted online by a writer for the National Discourse after seeing him write about the Yazidis. They were looking for another writer, so I accepted and have written two articles so far. They pay me $20 for each article so I can support my family, but it is difficult for me as I have never taken an English or Journalism course before. I think I will be forced to stop my work if I cannot go to school.
What is daily life in the camp like?
Life has been very difficult for the Yazidis in refugees camps. People have been forced to give up their jobs, and we are tired of living in the camps. We have electricity for about 7 hours everyday, The rest of the time people need to use candles and build little fires, but it’s very dangerous. The tents are very flammable and rotted from the sun, so every few days a fire starts somewhere in the camp and innocent people are injured. When it rains, many of the tents are flooded.
The tents were not designed to be long-term homes. They do not have bathrooms or kitchens inside. They get really cold in the winter and get really hot in the summer. After a while, we started to make kitchens besides the tents because there was no place else to cook. The kitchens are made with nylon and catch on fire easily.
When we first arrived in the camp, there were two kindergartens for children but, after a year, they were closed. There is no place for children to play so they cry often.
The remains of a tent destroyed by fires in Bersive Camp. Credit: Khalaf Dakheel.
What do you hope to gain through sharing life in a refugee camp with the world?
I hope Western countries can do something to help such a poor and innocent community that has faced 74 genocides. I also hope Westerners help us, whether through aiding us in coming to Europe, America, Britain etc. or rebuilding Shingal so we can return. I also hope they can liberate and help those of our girls who have been sold, raped and tortured for almost 4 years to return to their families.
How has the genocide changed your aspirations for the future?
It changed us so much: most of us have been forced to give up our jobs as we always think of our people who are still missing. I cannot go to school as there isn’t one, and the education system is bad. If the situation doesn’t improve, I cannot see a future for myself. I want to be confident in English. I write English well but because I have never taken any courses, I cannot speak it very well. I just learned by myself and from talking with native speakers. I wish to be a journalist and a writer. My biggest dream is to finish my schooling in Britain, since I have not been to school for three years.
Thank you to Khalaf his time. More information on how to help the Yazidis can be found at Yazda.org.