Yazidi refugees huddle along Turkish-Iraq border (+video)
Some members of Iraqi's Yazidi minority have made their way to safety in Turkey. But many more remain under threat at home from the jihadis rampaging across northern Iraq.
As soon as he heard shots close to their home in Sinjar, Khadeeda Sharro knew what he and his wife Bassi had to do: Grab their four kids and run.
Mr. Sharro said the self-named Islamic State, the jihadi group born out of Al Qaeda in Iraq that's now rampaging across northern Iraq and parts of Syria, was rolling into town virtually unopposed. Since IS has vowed to wipe out the Yazidi religious minority that Sharro and most of Sinjar's residents belong to, it wasn't a hard decision.
While many of his neighbors fled to Sinjar Mountain – where US bombing of jihadi positions and air drops of food and water have helped sustain thousands of Yazidi refugees in recent days – Sharro and his family of six jumped in the car for the four hour drive to Zakho, Iraq.
From there, they crossed the border into Turkey where they now share a huge tent with some seventy other people in a refugee camp in the Turkish town of Silopi. About 1,000 Yazidi's – ethnic Kurds who practice an ancient faith with roots in Zoroastrianism – are now sheltering in the camp.
There have been steady reports of IS militants killing Yazidi civilians and taking young Yazidi women as property. The jihadis' genocidal intent was a key reason that President Barack Obama authorized US airstrikes in Iraqi Kurdistan at the end of last week.
The Sharro family were lucky to be able to get out of Iraq, since Khadeeda obtained a passport while working for the US military during the American occupation of the country. Turkey isn't allowing Yazidi's without passports into the country, and the displaced in towns like Zakho are having a hard time of it, refugees say. There's little shelter for ones lucky enough to have made it off of Sinjar mountain to Zakho. For those that remain behind, the risk of dying of thirst is very real.
A family on the Iraqi side of the border talks through the gate. They say that Zakho's streets are filled with refugees and while locals are providing some food and water, the Iraqi Kurdish government isn't doing much – in part because Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has been withholding aid transfers to the Kurdish Regional Government out of anger over the region's demands for greater autonomy.
Some refugees are making their way into Turkey illegally. Many wade through the Hizil river not far from Silopi. Villagers sit by the small road on plastic chairs, and when they spot refugees they give them bread and water.
The Turkish army has other ideas, however, and has been forcing refugees back across the river when it finds them. In one instance, as Turkish soldiers forced Yazidi refugees to wade into the river and head back to Iraq, local villagers shouted angrily at the soldiers that the refugees could be killed back home, but were ignored.
The Turkish human rights association IHD has called on the Turkish government to let refugees without a passport cross into Turkey.