World Refugee Day

Displaced Family Gets New Lease on Life After Surviving Threat of ISIS

A soft-spoken Yazidi couple, Suleiman Khalf Kajo and his wife, Khabshe, have lived in a refugee camp in northern Syria with their family since fleeing ISIS in August 2014.
June 20, 2017, 6:15pm
Photo via Flickr user albertohugorojas.

The following article was republished from the International Rescue Committee for World Refugee Day

Family and visitors remove their shoes as they enter the tent, sitting down on cushions arranged around a gas stove. Khabshe, headscarf draped loosely about her face, offers coffee in blue plastic cups while the couple's younger daughter tends to her three-year-old son, a baby when they were forced from Sinjar in northwest Iraq.

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"Before the conflict, the city was safe and people were living good lives," says Suleiman, who earned money drilling wells and generating electricity. Then ISIS arrived and immediately targeted Yazidis, a religious minority of ethnic Kurds. Suleiman and his family escaped with their neighbors to the remote flanks of Mt. Sinjar. His son and elder daughter remained behind to fight back.

"We left with the knowledge that we had lost everything—our homes, our way of life—but the only thing we cared about was getting our children to safety," Suleiman says, pausing a moment to collect himself before continuing his story. He told of their harrowing week, the adults foregoing food and water in favor of the children.

"We would hike for 15 to 30 kilometers just to find a cup of water to bring back to them," he says, his voice choked with emotion. "We would search for sheep to take milk from them, even though we knew that the sheep belonged to someone and that it was wrong to take the milk."

Suleiman Khalf Kajo and his wife, Khabshe. When ISIS targeted the Yazidi minority in Sinjar, Iraq, the family escaped to the mountains, eventually finding shelter in a refugee camp in Syria. (Photo via IRC).

By the time coalition forces liberated the Yazidis hiding on the mountain, many were exhausted and starving. "People who were coming down were collapsing from hunger and thirst," Suleiman recalls. "Thankfully our whole family escaped alive."

Suleiman and Khabshe's three-year-old grandson was just a baby when they fled their home in ISIS-occupied Sinjar. "Thankfully our whole family escaped alive," Suleiman says. (Photo via IRC).

Suleiman finds life as a refugee challenging but calls Newroz "a light of hope." He and his family are among 4,000 displaced Iraqis receiving food and other emergency relief from the International Rescue Committee and other aid groups. When Suleiman suffered a heart attack as a result of a blood clot, the IRC's mobile clinic treated him and continues to provide free medication and checkups. The IRC also offered Suleiman a job as a security guard to help his family make ends meet.

Sinjar is no longer under ISIS control, but the battle to retake the city was devastating. Houses, shops, and schools are largely destroyed. And Suleiman is not yet ready to return home to the rest of his family and rebuild. "Though we miss our homeland, the horror we faced there prevents us from going back now," he says. "The IRC has done its best to help us, and we have a better life in the camp as a result of their support."

Make sure to donate to the IRC for World Refugee Day.