14 Aug 2014

Where are all the Yazidi refugees?

It appears there are fewer civilians trapped on Mount Sinjar than previously feared, and Channel 4 hears they may be intending to stay there. So where have thousands of other displaced Yazidis gone?

A review on Wednesday by US special operations troops of the situation on Iraq’s Mount Sinjar has concluded that the conditions of a religious minority seeking refuge are better than believed and may not require a US-led evacuation.

The team “assessed that there are far fewer Yazidis on Mount Sinjar than previously feared“, in part because of the success of humanitarian airdrops and airstrikes and the ability of thousands of Yazidis to evacuate from the mountain each, according to Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary.

A Downing Street source indicated that the US assessment is that the number of Yazidis remaining on Mount Sinjar is in the “low thousands”, with about 1,000 escaping the mountain every day.

Channel 4 News spoke to a Yazidi fighter, Haydar Qassem, on Mount Sinjar, who said there were around 1,500 families still in the area, along with 1,500 armed Kurdish men.

He said these families had decided to stay, rather than leave the area, even though the fighters only had enough arms to try to defend themselves rather than attack the Islamic State militants.

Mr Qassem also said the aid dropped from planes had landed some four hours walk from where he was based, so the amount reaching its intended target was scarce.

Speaking on Thursday President Obama praised US air drops of aid, saying: “we broke the seige of Mount Sinjar, helped many people reach safety and saved many innocent lives.” The success of the operation was such that a rescue mission had become unneccessary the President added.

See video: 'we broke the seige of Mount Sinjar' - President Obama

In the UK, speaking after a meeting of the Cobra emergency committee, a Downing Street spokesman said “While the situation on Mount Sinjar is better than we had feared, and a rescue mission now looks far less likely, we will continue to monitor this situation closely with our US partners and Kurdish forces.

“We are currently reviewing the need for additional air drops, given that there appear to be adequate supplies on the mountain, but we will keep the option open if we establish there is further need.”

Number 10 said the US assessment of the situation on Mount Sinjar had been reinforced by a UK Tornado surveillance mission on Wednesday night which “could not identify people in the numbers previously estimated.”

What aid is the UK sending to Iraq?

Over four nights, the UK has delivered a total of seven air drops of clean water, shelter and solar lamps with mobile phone chargers to help thousands of displaced Iraqi people.

The latest supplies dropped overnight on Mount Sinjar included two RAF C130 consignments with a total of: 2,400 reusable water purification containers filled with clean water (13,200 litres of water in total); 480 shelter kits to provide shade in temperatures of over 40°C.
In addition to Wednesday night's drop, the aid deliveries include:

Saturday 9 August
: 1,200 reusable water containers, providing 6000 litres in total, and 240 solar lanterns that can also be used to recharge mobile phones overnight
Monday 11 August
: 3,180 reusable water purification containers filled with clean water (15,900 litres of water in total) and 816 solar lamps which can also be used to charge mobile phones
Tuesday 12 August
: 2,640 reusable water purification containers filled with clean water (13,200 litres of water in total) and 528 shelter kits to provide shade in temperatures of over 40°C

Dire need

The office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees says about 400,000 refugees have fled in the current crisis, including Yazidis, Christians and other minorities.

On Wednesday the UN estimated that across Irbil, Dohuk and Sulaymaniyah provinces alone there were almost 300,000 displaced people.

A senior Yazidi leader, Dr. Mirza Dinnayi, who was on a helicopter that crashed on the Sinjar mountain, told Channel 4 News that the US was wrong to say the situation had improved.

Speaking from Irbil, he added: “They can’t have searched the entire mountain range and there are many areas you can’t reach. It’s a big mistake if they’re saying the situation is not so bad.”

Juan Gabriel Wells from Action Against Hunger in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq told Channel 4 News: “The humanitarian situation generally in northern Iraq remains dire. The needs are still very high, particularly for people arriving in Dohuk from Sinjar. They arrive in their thousands, daily, and have done so continuously for the past 10 days. Often, they have fled with little warning and come with nothing but the clothes on their backs.

“There are also possibly thousands of people who have crossed the border into Syria to escape the violence and are now Iraqi refugees in Syria.”

Steve Claborne, Iraq country director for Mercy Corps told Channel 4 News: “Official camps for internally displaced people are few and far between, so many families are taking shelter wherever they can: in schools, abandoned buildings and tents. With tens of thousands of families on the move, humanitarian needs in Iraq have reached a critical point.”

“We have already reached more than 20,000 people with desperately needed emergency supplies and with the additional funding from DFID, we will be able to rush life-saving aid to 10,000 more people.”

UK aid

The UK on Thursday pledged to provide a month’s worth of water and medicine for 12,000 Iraqi refugees who have escaped Mount Sinjar and reached a camp across the Syrian border. British funding will support the International Rescue Committee, which is running the Newroz refugee camp.

International Development Secretary Justine Greening said: “These 12,000 Yazidi refugees have escaped a siege, walked 60km in 50 degree heat and found their way across the Syrian border to a refugee camp that used to house just 20 families.

“They have shown immense courage to make it this far and we are extremely concerned for their wellbeing. By supporting the work of the International Rescue Committee, Britain will provide vital medicine and water to give immediate assistance.”