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'No Other Way:' GoFundMe Effort Aims To Rescue Yazidi Women From IS

  • Joanna Paraszczuk

In the sweltering summer heat of Duhok, in Iraq's Kurdistan region, American retiree Amy L. Beam spends her days making lists.

She documents the names of the hundreds upon hundreds of Yazidi women abducted by the Islamic State (IS) militant group over a year ago who are being desperately sought by their families.

An independent volunteer helping a new project called Liberation Of Christian And Yazidi Children Of Iraq (CYCI), Beam uses her lists to help locate and liberate women and girls held as sex slaves by IS.

CYCI is the brainchild of Steve Mamon, a businessman from Montreal, Canada. All of the money raised is used to pay for the liberation of Yazidi and Christian women from IS captivity.

Mamon began the project last year, initially asking members of his local Sephardic Jewish community in Montreal to help. In July, he launched a public fund-raising campaign via the GoFundMe website that as of August 17 had raised almost $395,000.

The inspiration for the project was Oskar Schindler, a German industrialist who saved the lives of over a thousand Jews during the Holocaust.

"When we say 'Never again' as Jews, we really mean 'Never again,'" CYCI volunteer Kelly Amram told RFE/RL by telephone. "If Schindler did what he did to save Jews, we can't sit back and be silent."

Ethics In Time Of Slavery

Some have questioned whether it is ethical to buy the captive women's freedom.

"Are you using this money to purchase these people from ISIS [another common acronym for IS]? Essentially, is this money being used to promote the human traffic trade?" a commenter named Brandon Wade asked CYCI via its GoFundMe page.

CYCI insists that the money does not go to IS but to middlemen. Beam describes these as local Arabs or Kurds who act as negotiators or brokers who have essentially made a business out of buying Yazidi women from militants and facilitating their escape back to their families for a fee. It is impossible to independently verify the extent of the middlemen's role in the trade around Yazidi captives, however.

The risks are high and several brokers have been killed in recent weeks, according to Canon Andrew White, a former pastor in Baghdad who has lent his personal support to the project.

And there is simply "no other way" to rescue the women, White insists.

"If you don't buy them back, then they get used and destroyed."

Escape From Hell

There are two main ways that women escape their IS captors, according to Beam.

The first way is harder -- and rarer. A woman is able to obtain a phone from an IS militant -- a risky undertaking as IS confiscated their captives' phones -- and call her family, who sets up her rescue. The woman has to make her own escape from the militant or household where she is being held and meet her rescuer, a broker.

"But it's very hard to escape. Under IS control, women don't walk around outside alone," Beam told RFE/RL by Skype from Duhok.

Women who are caught trying to escape are beaten and punished.

The second way is more common, and reflects the extent to which the trade in, and systematic rape of, Yazidi women has become an integral part of IS's organization and theology.

A militant buys a Yazidi woman and tries to use her for sex. But the woman resists being raped; she fights back. At first, the militant beats her up. Maybe he ties her up so she can't fight. Maybe he gags her. But she keeps fighting. Or else she cries all the time and is suicidal.

"Even for a rapist, sex loses its reward if he has to beat the woman unconscious every time," says Beam.

But the militant doesn't let the woman go. He sells her on to another militant. Eventually, the woman, useless as a sex slave, ends up being bought by a broker.

Buying Freedom

Brokers charge around $2,000-$3,000 to liberate a single Yazidi woman, Beam says.

But the Yazidi refugees in Duhok and Turkey don't have any money. And the close-knit nature of Yazidi society means that many people have more than one family member in captivity, so the price is even higher.

The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has said it reimburses local Yazidi communities who pay middlemen to rescue women, but families still have to find the cash up front. And with Iraq in chaos, Beam says that the KRG's reimbursements have dried up.

Exact numbers are unclear, but CYCI estimates that there are at least 2,700 women and girls still in captivity.

CYCI's goal is to raise enough money to rescue all those women, says volunteer Amram.

"We need to raise about $9 million-$10 million to rescue them all and to complete this mission," she says.

About This Blog

"Under The Black Flag" provides news, opinion, and analysis about the impact of the Islamic State (IS) extremist group in Syria, Iraq, and beyond. It focuses not only on the fight against terrorist groups in the Middle East, but also on the implications for the region and the world. The blog's primary author, James Miller, closely covered the first three years of the Arab Spring, with a focus on Syria, and is now the managing editor of The Interpreter, where he covers Russia's foreign and domestic policy and the Kremlin's wars in Syria and Ukraine. Follow him on Twitter: @Millermena


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