14 Aug 2014

How many Yazidi refugees are still stranded on Mount Sinjar?

Crisis, what crisis? The Americans have ruled out a military airlift of Yazidis stranded on Mount Sinjar on the grounds that the situation is not as bad as previously thought.

This is on the basis of first hand evidence. A team of aid workers, guided by American Special Forces, has gone up and taken a look.

I have no reason to doubt the sincerity of this conclusion but I would like to know its methodology.

When I flew over the mountain in an Iraqi military helicopter on Monday, I saw refugees spread out over a very large area, small pockets of people sheltering from the extreme heat wherever they could.

The Sinjar mountain range is over 45 miles long. Are the Americans saying that the refugees are not spread out any more but have either been shepherded or moved into a concentrated area where they can be counted?

The American figure of a few thousand means the UN estimate of over 20,000 is simply wrong. It also means that the number of Yazidis we have seen streaming into Iraq from Syria on foot and by car daily is greater than was previously thought.

In other words, most Yazidis walked down the north slope of the mountain and escaped into Syria.

The Americans are claiming their air strikes made this possible by ending this particular siege by jihadist militants.

Air drops by the US, Britain and others are apparently keeping alive those who are still trapped. Kurdish fighters would no doubt claim credit for escorting most refugees out.

And presumably it is now up to these fighters to bring down the few thousand left, however old or young they may be.

The temperature here today is forty-six degrees. It is so hot that my camerawoman Philippa is finding it very difficult to film, because the camera becomes too hot to touch.

And what this American conclusion does not tell us is how many died up on the mountain in this extreme heat in the previous twelve days, before this assessment was carried out.

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