“We have nothing”- Displaced Yazidi communities fear the future

As a World Vision distribution takes shape, twine is used to cordon off the space where items are organized for pick-up.  Then, in an assembly line fashion, each beneficiary, representatives from each family, file through.  Each person shares their name, validates it with an ID card, and then picks up goods at consecutive stations: hygiene kits, jerry cans, blankets and mattresses.

An elderly woman stands alongside the roped area, patiently waiting for her turn. While others queue for the distribution, she is the first person invited to the registration table.

Asmar Asleh was born in 1927, to a minority Yazidi community in the Sinjar district of Nineva Province, the same year that oil field exploration produced Iraq’s first gusher in the neighbouring province of Kirkuk.  It is only three hours from her village, if one has a car.  But this is irrelevant to the elderly woman who spent her entire life in the village, until recently fleeing the violent conflict that engulfed her district. With little notice, neighbours told Asmar, 86, and her daughter Khonaf, 60, they must leave as soon as possible.

“We heard from others what was happening.  We were frightened by the situation,” Asmar says.

“As soon as we heard, we ran,” Khonaf adds.

"As soon as we heard, we ran,” Khonaf adds.

In helping them escape by car, neighbours ensured their survival. For those persons too elderly or infirm, if they did not have a car or assistance from family or neighbours, there was little recourse but to remain in their homes, waiting for their death or their capture. While Asmar and Khonaf escaped the attack, they continue to fear for their future.

I have nothing," says Asmar. 

“I don’t have a father. I don't have a brother. I don't have a sister. I don't have sons or grandchildren. I have nothing," says Asmar. 

 Last year, she lost her husband. Her only son was killed during the Iran – Iraq War.  Her daughter, Khonaf, never married.

Asmar and Khonaf found refuge in this school in Dahuk Province.  In a small tiled corner of a partially covered courtyard, the mother and daughter have stacked the few belongings they own – items largely donated to them by the good will of others. 

In a country where 1.8 million people have been displaced, 800,000 of them in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, the burden on host communities is heavy, but there is an attempt to provide some basics.  There is a water tank nearby, breakfast is provided daily and bread is delivered at least every two days.

Winter is coming, though, and the women worry how they will survive the cold nights in this mountainous area.  “We need blankets. We need a heater,” Asmar says.

 "Displaced communities are not prepared for winter.  People living in tents will be severely affected by the change of weather,” says Mike Weickert, World Vision response manager in Iraq.

“This is our most pressing concern today – that displaced communities are not prepared for winter.  People living in tents will be severely affected by the change of weather,” says Mike Weickert, World Vision response manager in Iraq. “We are distributing blankets and mattresses today, but more needs to be done.”


At the end of September, the United Nations reported a $360 (USD) million funding shortfall for much needed interventions to help assist families readying themselves for a harsh winter.  Many are living in mountainous areas like in Zakho, where winters are wet and cold, and where temperatures often drop below freezing. 


For many people like Asmar, who were born and lived their entire life in the same village – the conflict took them by surprise.  There were difficult days in the past, Asmar admits, but nothing that compares with her current situation.

 “I miss my home. I miss my life there... Here, there is nothing,” Asmar says.

“I miss my home. I miss my life there.  There is no comparison between then and now. Here, there is nothing,” Asmar says, punctuating the sentence with a wave of her arm.  “We have nothing.” 


For a moment, she is silent, then shaken, as if under the weight of sorrow something breaks. Her daughter, Khonaf, kneels next to her, cradling her mother’s head, attempting to console her.


Khonaf says her mother has collapsed like this before.  They have suffered too much.  A crowd that surrounded them earlier now begins to dissipate.  The people return to their own spaces, some mill about the schoolyard, they collect water, they watch their children, and wonder what tomorrow will bring.