Stalled in Greece, Yazidi refugees' dream of safety still seems far away

Some Yazidis from different families gather after a meal in April in the informal refugee camp in Idomeni, Greece. (Photos by Giacomo Sini)

Idomeni, Greece — Editor's note: In April, writer Francesco Moisés Bassano and photographer Giacomo Sini traveled to Idomeni, Greece, where they met a community of Yazidis living in an informal refugee camp there, alongside thousands of other migrants. As NCR went to press, Greek police had begun relocating the camp's population to state-supervised facilities; read more at NCRonline.org/node/125621.

In Idomeni, a little village between Greece and the Republic of Macedonia, an informal refugee camp immersed in rubbish, toxic fumes and mud is the home of more than 1,200 Yazidis, blocked here together with other migrants for the past few months while waiting for the border to reopen.

Since 2014, people fleeing the conflict in Syria, but also others from Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan and other countries in Central Asia, arrived in Idomeni from Turkey in order to cross the Greek border and enter the Republic of Macedonia. Macedonia is part of the so-called "Balkan route" that migrants cross in order to reach Germany and other European countries. In 2015, the Macedonian authorities' decision to close their southern Greek border caused a humanitarian crisis.

Yazidis, a religious group of about half a million people, are natives of the northern Iraqi province of Nineveh. They share the same language and much of the culture of the Turkish and Syrian Kurds. Because of their attachment to a monotheistic cult of Gnostic and pre-Islamic origin, they have endured years of repression.

The Yazidis are a peaceful and tolerant people, and have had good relationships with Christians and Jews, and even with Muslims before the rise of Islamic fundamentalism. But in the last two years, along with Christians, Mandaeans and Shiites, the Yazidis have been the target of ethnic cleansing carried out by Islamic State militiamen.

All the people we met in the camp in April remember their escape in August 2014 toward the mountains of Sinjar when the Islamic State group began an offensive in northern Iraq. Now their territory is in the hands of the Islamic State, and for months they have lost all contact with their friends and relatives. Most of the people are missing. The men and children refusing to convert to Islam have been killed; the women have been abducted to be turned into slaves or prostitutes in Mosul and Raqqa.

The population who survived the attacks fled to the mountains around Sinjar where they have been trapped without food, water or medical care, facing starvation, dehydration and the risk of more incursions by the Islamic State.

Fortunately, Kurdish forces opened a corridor through the mountains toward Rojava in northern Syria, so the migrants could flee to safety. Thousands of Yazidis then found refuge in Iraqi Kurdistan or in Anatolia, hoping to reach other, safer areas.

But their troubles seem to be endless, even in Greece. In addition to the difficulty of applying for asylum, they continue to live in fear, thinking that there are Islamic State sympathizers in the Idomeni camp. They have already been threatened. They dream to find a place in the world to live in liberty and peace, no longer persecuted for their faith.

[Francesco Moisés Bassano, a traveler and writer, is a student of humanities at the University of Pisa, Italy. Photographer Giacomo Sini has a degree in social sciences from University of Pisa. He has traveled through more than 50 countries taking photos.]


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