IS victim who burned herself to avoid further rape among those being helped by Germans

The Yazidi girl had been in the safety of a refugee camp in Iraq for two weeks when she imagined she heard the voices of Islamic State (IS) fighters outside her tent.
IS victim who burned herself to avoid further rape among those being helped by Germans

Petrified by the thought of again facing rape and abuse at their hands, 17-year-old Yasmin vowed to make herself undesirable.

So she doused herself in gasoline and lit a match. The flames burned her hair and face, peeling away her nose, lips, and ears.

That was her state when German doctor Jan Ilhan Kizilhan found her last year — disfigured and mentally so scarred that she had falsely thought her former captors were coming for her.

Now 18, Yasmin is one of 1,100 women, mainly of the Yazidi religious minority, who have escaped IS captivity and are in Germany for psychological treatment.

The pioneering programme that Dr Kizilhan helps run, which has attracted international attention, tries to address a basic problem: Long after the women are rescued, the trauma remains.

Recalling her ordeal, Yasmin hunches over in her chair, grips her gnarled hands together, and looks down at the floor.

But she straightens up and her face brightens as she remembers when Kizilhan first entered her tent in the refugee camp and told her and her mother, in their own language, how he could help in Germany.

“I said, of course I want to go there and be safe, and be the old Yasmin again,” she recounts. She asks that her last name not be used out of ongoing fear of reprisal from IS sympathisers.

It was on August 3, 2014, that IS fighters swept into the Sinjar region of northern Iraq, home to the majority of the world’s Yazidis.

They rounded up the Yazidis into three groups: Young boys who were made to fight for IS; older males who were killed if they did not convert to Islam; and women and girls sold into slavery, such as Yasmin.

As the attack unfolded, members of the estimated 100,000-strong Yazidi community in Germany approached politicians in Berlin for help. Winfried Kretschmann, the governor of the western state of Baden Wuerttemberg, was moved and decided to act.

“He asked us: ‘what can we do?’ We’re a state, we don’t have an army,” recalls Michael Blume, the state’s expert on minority issues.

“We looked into it and said, no state’s ever done it, but we could bring a special quota here.”

The state parliament committed €95m over three years to bring women abused by IS — mostly Yazidis but also Christians and Shia Muslims — to Germany. Mr Blume reached out to Dr Kizilhan, a psychologist specialising in trauma.

From February 2015 to January 2016, small teams of experts, including Mr Blume and Dr Kizilhan, went to refugee camps in northern Iraq. Dr Kizilhan made 14 trips and personally interviewed the women and girls, trying to determine who would benefit from the limited program.

“It was an evil that I had never seen in my life,” he says. “I had already worked with patients from Rwanda, from Bosnia, but this was different. If you have an 8-year-old girl in front of you who was sold eight times by IS and raped 100 times during 10 months, you ask how can humankind be so evil?”

In the end, he selected 1,100 women and girls ranging in age today from 4 to 56.

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