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Closure of Iraq Charity Puts Rescued Yazidi Sex Slaves at Risk, Director Warns

FILE - Yazidi sisters, who escaped from captivity by Islamic State (IS) militants, sit in a tent at Sharya refugee camp on the outskirts of Duhok province, Iraq, July 3, 2015.

The closure of a charity providing treatment for trauma to Yazidi sex slaves rescued from Islamic State militants in northern Iraq will damage their chances of recovery, the charity's head said on Wednesday.

The Yazidi-led charity Yazda, based in the Iraqi Kurdistan city of Dohuk, had been providing aid and mental healthcare since 2014 to Yazidi women and girls who have been raped and enslaved by IS.

Executive director of Yazda, Murad Ismael, said its offices were shut down on Monday by Kurdish authorities who accused the group of being illegally involved in "political activities."

Ismael said the accusations were "baseless" and that many women and children's lives were now at risk because they can no longer receive psychological treatment for their trauma.

"The center saves lives but the services are not there now.

Case workers can no longer visit them in the camps, and they can't come to our center," Ismael told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from Iraq.

Kurdish authorities did not respond to a request for comment.

While there are other aid groups in the region, Ismael said survivors felt more comfortable talking to Yazidi counselors about their experiences. He said many rescued women would have committed suicide if Yazda's therapists were not there to help.

Besides offering support to former IS captives, Yazda has also been documenting evidence of mass killings committed by Islamic State against his community, Ismael said.

Thousands of women and girls were abducted, tortured and sexually abused by Islamic State fighters after the militants rounded up Yazidis in the village of Kocho, near Sinjar in northwest Iraq, in 2014.

Since then, some have escaped and rescued but as many as 3,500 remain in Islamic State captivity, according to a recent estimate provided by the office that handles kidnappings in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq.

Thousands of captured men were killed in what a United Nations commission called a genocide against the Yazidis, a religious sect whose beliefs combine elements of several ancient Middle Eastern religions. Islamic State considers them devil-worshippers.

Iraqi forces are now fighting to retake the city of Mosul, the militants' last major stronghold in Iraq, where many Yazidis were held.