Danger Follows Search Operations Looking to Rescue Religious Minorities from ISIS Captivity
A man who has dedicated his life to rescuing religious minorities held captive by ISIS shares harrowing details of what it took to organize rescue missions during the height of ISIS’s so-called caliphate. While he himself mostly works with Yazidis, many are still looking for the thousands of Christian women who were kidnapped by ISIS. Officials say that the adults have been sold for human trafficking, and the children for organ trafficking. Many have ended up in Turkey. As he shares in this story, rescuing religious minorities from this fate is still a delicate and dangerous operation despite ISIS’s military defeat.
01/19/2018 Iraq (NPR) – Abdullah Shrim’s phone almost never stops ringing. Most of the calls and messages are from other Yazidis asking for help to find their relatives. Others are from people threatening to kill him.
Shrim, a gregarious man with a ready smile, so far has rescued 338 members of the Yazidi religious group held captive by ISIS — almost all of them from Syria. It’s a long way from his background as a beekeeper and businessman.
“I didn’t think for a moment that I could be involved in the rescue field, to save someone,” says Shrim, 43, at his home in a village near the city of Dohuk in the Kurdistan region of Iraq.
ISIS roared into Yazidi towns near Mount Sinjar, in northern Iraq, in June 2014, on a mission to exterminate people whom the militants considered unbelievers.
The Yazidis, an ancient religious minority, were left to defend themselves as Kurdish forces retreated. Hundreds of men were killed and estimates of more than 6,000 Yazidis — mostly women, taken as sex slaves, and children — kidnapped.
Months after ISIS was driven out of most of Iraq and Syria, half of the Yazidi captives are still missing. Some have been killed while others are believed to have been taken to Turkey by ISIS or sold to human trafficking rings. Shrim and others, though, believe that hundreds of the captives are still alive and in Syria.
Shrim himself had 56 relatives taken prisoner. A few months after they were kidnapped, one of his nieces managed to call him from Raqqa, a former ISIS stronghold in Syria, begging for help. Shrim had lived and worked in the Syrian city of Aleppo and he turned to his contacts there.
“I called my friends there and asked what can I do to save them?” he says. “They advised me to cooperate with cigarette smugglers. ISIS considers cigarettes haram [forbidden under Islam] … so people who smuggle cigarettes are used to a lot of danger.”
Shrim and other Yazidis and Kurds set up a network. At first he went into Syria himself in areas controlled by sympathetic Syrian Kurds. But after disputes between Iraqi and Syrian Kurdish parties, that became impossible. Then ISIS expelled Kurds living in Raqqa. After that, Shrim says they had to rely on Arab Syrians to help them — and the rescues became more difficult.
The price of getting each woman and girl back went from under $3,000 to about $15,000.
For interviews with Claire Evans, ICC’s Regional Manager, please contact Olivia Miller, Communications Coordinator: firstname.lastname@example.org.