Accessibility links

Aid Agencies Warn of Iraq Refugees' Mental Health Crisis

  • Henry Ridgwell

Aid agencies say there is a desperate need to train more mental health professionals in Iraq to treat the survivors of Islamic State kidnappings and attacks.

In 2014, Islamic State militants entered 17-year-old Nihad Barakat's Yazidi village in northern Iraq. They killed the men and kidnapped 28 members of her family.

Speaking at a news conference in London Wednesday, Nihad described what happened next.

"The worst torture happened to us in Mosul, she says. The girls were raped, they were all taken from their families and raped constantly. And then they were handed out to the emirs [leaders] from Daesh. We were beaten and raped constantly for two weeks, and then I was chosen by one of the emirs and taken to another place," she said.

Her kidnapper was killed in fighting – and Nihad was sold to another Islamic State fighter as a sex slave. She became pregnant and gave birth to a baby boy.

"With the help of somebody I managed to make a phone call to my family. I managed to escape after that, but I had to leave my baby behind," she said.

Such trauma leaves huge mental scars - that are often left untreated. Nihad is receiving practical and psychological support from the AMAR Foundation aid group – which is raising money to train more mental health professionals in Iraq. Doctor Ali Muthanna is Iraq director for the charity.

“They have witnessed plenty of things that will never be erased from their memory. They have witnessed killing, they have witnessed parts of bodies scattered here and there, the screaming of their mothers and sisters, etc. So we need a very comprehensive collaboration from different partners in order to establish a rehabilitation program," said Muthanna.

Hundreds of Yazidi women are still being held in slavery by Islamic State.

Protests were held Tuesday this week – International Women's Day – to highlight their plight.

Protest leader Samia Shingali says they want to send a message to the international community to do something to bring back our Yazidi mothers and sisters, to save them from the hands of Islamic State terrorists. She says it has been two years now since the kidnappings, and the issue is being ignored internationally.

Aid agencies say a whole generation of young Iraqis and Syrians are being left with deep psychological scars – and many of them will likely never receive treatment.

XS
SM
MD
LG