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Here's how one organization is working to help Yazidis who escaped ISIS

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Here's how one organization is working to help Yazidis who escaped ISIS

WATCH  |  Circa explores the story of the founder of the Free Yezidi Foundation about her group's efforts to help members of the minority religious sect who fled murder, kidnappings and sex slavery at the hands of Islamic extremists in Iraq.

ISIS invades Mount Sinjar

Pari Ibrahim was in Germany on Aug. 3, 2014, when she received a call from a family member in the middle of the night saying ISIS forces had invaded Mount Sinjar in northwestern Iraq.

Ibrahim, a member of the Yazidi religious minority, was horrified by the way ISIS was targeting her people.  She and her family quickly returned home to the Netherlands, where her family emigrated in the '90s, and began searching for news on what was happening in Sinjar.

There was nothing. 

Yazidis faced extermination

Ibrahim made it her personal mission to make sure the world knew what happened in the holy town of Sinjar, which was home to a large community of Yazidis.

She began calling news outlets, spreading the word about what was happening -- ISIS was trying to exterminate the Yazidi people.

ISIS killed the men and boys who refused to convert to Islam, according to the United Nations. Some women and girls were kidnapped, while others were kept as sex slaves or killed. 

I have lost 19 girls of my family, more than 21 men have been killed. Two of these girls came back and their stories are unbelievable.
Pari Ibrahim

After spreading the word about the Sinjar massacre, Ibrahim went on to found the Free Yezidi Foundation, which aims to support the most vulnerable members of the Yazidi community.

Ibrahim now has the support of other international humanitarian organizations. 

Center in Iraqi Kurdistan

In 2015, the foundation opened a women and children's center in Dohuk, which is located in Iraqi Kurdistan. The center is located inside a camp for those who have fled their homes because of ISIS. Ibrahim said the idea was to create a women and children's center that was open to everyone, not just those who had escaped ISIS.

Ibrahim added that the foundation didn't want it to just be a post-trauma center because there would be a stigma attached to anyone who went there. 

Avoiding 'trauma' stigma

"In many countries in the Middle East, it is very difficult -- a lot of communities do not accept their women and girls back when they are raped," Ibrahim explained. "But we understand very well, that these girls... that it is not their fault."

She and the foundation's board decided that a generic center would be the best way to reach people who had been raped, abused or suffered any type of trauma. 

We have to take care of them, we have to make sure that they come back into society -- and we receive them with open arms.
Pari Ibrahim

Ready to help with a safe zone

"Many of those families who have fled ISIS live here [in the camp], we go to them and tell them if they want we are ready to help them and they usually come," said Burhan Shamo Roto, the manager of the Free Yezidi Foundation's center.

The foundation provides classes that cover everything from language to art to computer skills. "They help them to re-enter the society," Roto said. "Even if those women who fled ISIS are not here, the psychologists go to them and talk to them." 

How can we allow rape? How can we allow that women and girls are being used as weapons of war?
Pari Ibrahim

The goal is to provide a "safe zone" for these women and children. If the women choose to, they can meet with psychologists to help them heal. 


Genocide of the Yazidi people

Meanwhile, Ibrahim is traveling around the world, asking other nations to recognize what happened to the Yazidis as a genocide.

Ibrahim is also pushing for nations to open their borders for the Yazidis, who ISIS considers to be "devil worshippers." 

"It is a special circumstance, that these people need somewhere to resettle and rebuild their lives again after this hell that they have been through," Ibrahim said. 

A candlelight vigil in front of the White House.

UN confirms ongoing genocide

In June, United Nations investigators acknowledged that ISIS has committed "genocide against Yazidis that amounts to crimes against humanity and war crimes." Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, chair of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, noted that the genocide is ongoing.

Genocide by definition is acts committed "with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, national, ethnical, racial or religious group," according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

ISIS has subjected every Yazidi woman, child or man that it has captured to the most horrific of atrocities.
Paulo Pinheiro

U.N. investigators said that's what happened to the Yazidis in Iraq.

The U.N. report noted that ISIS has publicly cited the Yazidis' faith as the basis for the August 2014 attack. 

Kerry's statement on genocide


U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in March that ISIS' actions against the Yazidis constitutes genocide. "My purpose here today is to assert in my judgment, (ISIS) is responsible for genocide against groups in areas under its control including Yazidis, Christians and Shiite Muslims," Kerry said during a news conference.

Now the United Nations is urging the international community to protect this religious minority by providing financial and psychological support. 

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