Family of Yazidi survivor claim sister still in Syria

Dilan Sirwan

Jun. 09, 2024 • 4 min read
Image of Family of Yazidi survivor claim sister still in Syria

A Yazidi survivor's sister faces uncertain return to Iraq after escaping ISIS captivity and being held by Kurdish-led forces for investigation.

The family of a Yazidi survivor claim that their sister is being held under investigation by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) after she was rejected by Iraqi border guards to enter Iraqi territory after her survival.


Sa’ad Tatar and his wife Su’da Chato heard that Tawaf Chato, sister to Su’da, had survived from her ISIS captors on Monday. To them, it was not clear how she had escaped, nor did they even see her, but their recollection of the events comes from that of PKK-affiliated groups who had indirectly informed them of her wellbeing.


Tawaf was captured by ISIS when the terror group launched their attack on the Yazidi town of Sinjar in August of 2014. She was not the only woman of her family to be captured, along with her sister Su’ad, she was one of thousands of Yazidi women who were taken by ISIS.


The New Region spoke to Sa’ad Tatar, Su’ad Chato, and her husband Khairi Abdullah, all of whom told the same story about Tawaf, but none of whom were there to see.


According to them, Tawaf had walked to the Iraqi border with Syria on Monday, not clear where she had went from or from whom she had escaped after all those years, but their story painted a picture of her carrying a white piece of fabric at the border, indicating that she comes in peace, but that was to no avail with Iraqi border guards.


“She was turned down by the Iraqi side of the border, despite identifying herself and who her family were,” Khairi Abdullah told The New Region on Thursday.


Tawaf was later taken in by the SDF, according to Khairi and all other relatives The New Region spoke to.


“We do not have communications with her, but the Hevals told us that she was with the SDF,” Abdullah said, referring to PKK-linked groups in Sinjar who often use the Kurdish word for comrade to refer to each other. “They told us that we will keep her for around ten days and we will let you know when we let her go.”


Tawaf was reported to have been returned to the Kurdistan Region earlier in the week, however family members confirmed to The New Region that she is yet to be brought back here, as her return is pending the conclusion of the SDF’s investigation.


Tawaf’s sister Su’ad escaped from ISIS in 2019. When they were captured by ISIS in 2014, she was 15 while Tawaf was just 14 years old. The two sisters have not seen each other ever since, and even now with the news of her sister surviving, her only source of information is through hearsay.


“She escaped in Syria, she is still in Syria, but I have no idea where she is,” Su’ad told The New Region. “We just have been told that she could be returned back any day, could be tomorrow, could be another month.”


Tawaf’s family have suffered quite a lot at the hands of ISIS, not only did she and her sister get captured by the group, they lost their father and brother in an ISIS explosion in Qahtania as well.


The family now await their sister to be brought back to Iraq, where she is expected to be received back in Duhok’s Khanke by her family. However a clear date of when she will return is still unclear to all members of her family.


According to data shared by Hussein Qaidi, head of the Yazidi rescue office in the Kurdistan Region, a total of 6,417 Yazidi children and women were captured by ISIS in their August 2014 attack on Sinjar.


While the group took the Yazidi women and children, the Yazidi men in Sinjar were mass murdered at the hands of the terror group.


To date, only 3,576 of those taken captive by the group have been rescued and brought back to Iraq.


Iraq passed the Yazidi Survivors’ Law in 2021, the first step by the Iraqi government recognizing the Yazidi genocide.


However, the Yazidi community in the country still suffers to return home to Sinjar, the Yazidi heartland.


Disagreements between Iraqi and Kurdish authorities, and the presence of PKK-linked groups, have for years prevented the town from returning to stability, and has put to halt the landmark Sinjar agreement aiming to rehabilitate the Yazidi community in Sinjar.


While many Yazidi women are still missing with their whereabouts unclear to everyone, many Yazidi families still struggle inside camps in the Kurdistan Region, where home is too unstable to go back to, and their stay seems to be cut short by attempts from the Iraqi government to repatriate them back to their hometown.


Additional reporting by Bizhar Shareef

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Author Dilan Sirwan

Dilan Sirwan is an Erbil-based Kurdish journalist covering Iraq and the Kurdistan Region. He focuses on political, economic, and social issues.


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