Yazidis who fled to Turkey from the Islamic State’s invasion of Iraq in 2014 are struggling to satisfy their basic needs, including caring for the sick, because they have been granted no legal status in Turkey.
“About 30,000 Yazidis from the Sincar area of Northern Iraq, fleeing from IS attacks, entered Turkey in August 2014,” according to a report by the Turkish Research Centre on Asylum and Migration (IGAM).
However, they have not been recognized as “refugees,” “guests,” or “persons benefiting from temporary protection” — even though they have lived in Turkey for the last two years.
Yazidis that have been deprived of health services include people with cancer, cardiac disease, diabetes, and asthma.
Feleknas Uca, a Yazidi MP of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), held a press conference in August alongside representatives of the Diyarbakir chamber of doctors, Diyarbakir health employees union, and pro-Kurdish political parties in the region.
Yazidis were exposed to genocide at the hands of ISIS in Shingal on 3 August 2014. After the massacre, thousands of Yazidis were settled in the camps in Diyarbakir, Urfa, Sirnak, Siirt, Mardin and Batman run by the Democratic Regions Party (DBP). In this process, Yazidis have experienced serious problems – the primary one being health issues.
Yazidi women have particularly been traumatized. They suffer from anxiety, insecurity, hatred, anger and sleeping disorders.
And many of them have chronic, life threatening diseases. Some of them have a risk of losing their eyesight and are waiting to get treatment at hospitals.
We have brought the problems of Yazidis to the parliament many times and presented motions to the government officials but no solution has been provided.
But unlike Yazidis, Syrian asylum seekers in Turkey are able to benefit from health services:
The government is even planning to give Syrian asylum seekers Turkish citizenship. President Erdogan declared it in July. But even the health problems of Yazidis are not resolved. So we are asking the government: What is the difference between Syrian and Yazidi asylum seekers?
As Yazidi asylum seekers are devoid of any legal status, they are dependent on the aid provided by individuals, charity organizations, and other NGOs. When they become ill at the camps, volunteer doctors and an organization called Doctors Worldwide (DWW) attempt to help.
Dr. Mehmet Serif Demir, the general secretary of the Diyarbakir Chamber of Medical Doctors, said that, as volunteer physicians, they are trying to help the Yazidis. But without governmental support, it is impossible to provide them with advanced medical treatment.
Our efforts only make primary health care services possible for Yazidis at municipality-run camps. When they need a medical operation, surgery or another high-tech service, they need to go to hospitals and those operations are often expensive.
So far, Yazidi patients have gotten medical treatment at hospitals only with the help of philanthropic individuals and organizations.
Said Iraq-based researcher Muhip Ege Caglidil:
Many Yazidis are still scared of returning to Shingal because they think the Arabs around the Shingal region are potential Islamic State members. Their Arab neighbors attacked Yazidis who had lived with them for years when IS invaded Shingal. The Yazidis have been unable to get over the deep trauma.
However, Turkey keeps ignoring the plight of Yazidis. And the UN does not help them much, either. Said Metin Corabatir, former spokesperson of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Turkey:
Yazidis have complaints about the United Nations. They say UN authorities do not visit their camps, care about them, or accept their applications as asylum seekers in Europe.
Yazidis in Turkey are extremely poor, but they must spend a lot of money to apply for asylum with the UNHCR. However, many of the applicants were not even registered by the UN. Some of them were as late as 2023 for their earliest possible interview date.
Many Yazidis do not want to either stay in Turkey or return to Iraq. They say that even their Muslim neighbors in Iraq attacked them when IS invaded their towns.
However, Yazidis do not feel completely safe in public in Turkey either, an EU candidate country with a “secular” constitution. Said Corabatir:
When they have to travel to big cities in Turkey, they try to make their faith as invisible as possible.
The exact number of Iraqi Yazidis in Turkey is not known, and it varies from day to day. Some have returned to Iraq where they have been settled in UN-funded camps, or in camps of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). A few have managed to go to Europe.
Most of those who left Turkey and managed to arrive in Europe must have done so illegally.
According to news reports, a group of about 250 Yazidis from the Diyarbakir camp headed for the Bulgarian border in June last year, hoping to reach Europe, but the city’s governor ordered them ousted from the city.
Today, many Yazidi asylum seekers in Turkey are still dreaming about going to Europe.
Said Mehmet Isik, a human rights lawyer and member of the Children’s Rights Centre of the Diyarbakir Bar Association:
When we meet Yazidis, the first thing they tell us is that they want to go to a Western country.
Muslims have taken a very harsh and brutal attitude against Yazidis throughout history. Because of that, Yazidis have difficulty trusting Muslims and they do not want to live in an Islamic country. A lot of Yazidis are known to be waiting near the Aegean and the Mediterranean Sea to be able to cross to Europe.
The Yazidis are a historically persecuted, non-Muslim community in the Middle East. And their persecution at the hands of a Muslim government is still ongoing.
Many Yazidis are still too deeply traumatized to return to their homes in Shingal. They are yearning to live in a free, non-Islamic country, but they get ignored by the West. The UN does not seem to care much about them either. And in Turkey, where they had to take shelter when ISIS terrorists attacked their homes in Iraq, they are living like “ghosts,” without an official status.