AS THE liberation of Mosul from Islamic State (IS) draws nearer, MPs have demanded that the Government should do more to ensure that the vulnerable Yazidi religious minority is protected in what is likely to be a bloody aftermath.
The Scottish National Party MP Brendan O’Hara secured a Westminster Hall debate on Tuesday to remind ministers of the violence and displacement that the small Yazidi community has already experienced in Iraq from IS militants.
The 3000 Yazidis left inside Mosul have been “raped, tortured, brutalised, bought, sold, held in sexual slavery, and even murdered by Daesh” [IS], Mr O’Hara said. “These innocent women and children have witnessed the slaughter of their husbands, their sons, and their brothers, as Daesh has attempted genocide to try to erase all trace of the Yazidi community; and they need our help.”
The Labour MP Graham Jones spoke in support of Mr O’Hara. He had recently visited refugee camps full of those who fled IS’s advance in 2014. The youngest person in the camp who had been raped by IS fighters was just two years old, he said.
Mr O’Hara praised a scheme by the German state of Baden-Württemberg, which had brought more than 1100 Yazidi women and their children to Germany from northern Iraq to provide specialist psychological and emotional treatment after suffering sexual violence at the hands of IS.
“Germany provides a safe haven for the women and children, and I can see absolutely no reason why the United Kingdom cannot also do that,” he said. The Government did not need to simply copy the Baden-Württemberg model, but if it did nothing for Yazidis, history would pass a “particularly harsh judgement on us”, he warned.
Responding for the Government, Sarah Newton, a junior minister at the Home Office, whose brief includes countering extremism, agreed that the plight of the Yazidi people was “utterly harrowing”. She suggested, however, that it would be better to seek to help them on the ground in Iraq, and focus first on defeating IS.
“Through our Human Rights and Democracy Fund, we are supporting projects on the ground in Mosul that are particularly targeted to support those members of the Yazidi community, whether male or female, who have been exposed to the most appalling sexual violence,” Mrs Newton said. While it was possible that some victims of particularly horrific sexual exploitation could be brought to the UK, “our priority is to support those communities on the ground now,” she said.
Mr O’Hara, disagreeing, said that there were only 25 psychologists in the whole of northern Iraq, the majority of whom were Muslim men, and thus unable to treat properly a traumatised Yazidi woman in a socially conservative culture.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief issued a statement on Wednesday, which welcomed the debate initiated by Mr O’Hara. It said that the Government’s resettlement scheme for vulnerable Syrians was failing to protect Yazidis, despite their “systematic persecution” by IS, as the majority were Iraqi.
“The UK Government has an international obligation and responsibility to protect such vulnerable refugees,” the statement said, and that the Parliamentary Group was happy to work with ministers to assess how such help could be offered to refugees.
Pope speaks out against human trafficking. Pope Francis has denounced the “crime against humanity” that is human trafficking, in an address to a European network of faith groups that is tackling the problem.
Speaking in Rome at the assembly of RENATE — Religious in Europe Networking Against Trafficking and Exploitation — the Pope said that trading in human beings was a “modern form of slavery”, which violated people’s God-given dignity.
While awareness of trafficking was rising, indifference, and even complicity, from some economic interests needed to be overcome before the crime could be eradicated, Pope Francis said.