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Reporter’s Notebook: Meeting Yazidis Fleeing Islamic State Militants

Salwa Khalaf (right), 15 years old, was forced to flee her home and school in Sinjar after an advance by Islamic militants. Nour Malas/The Wall Street Journal

Thousands of Yazidis have fled an Islamic insurgent attack on their hometowns in the Sinjar plain of northern Iraq. We spent a day meeting and interviewing families who escaped to the closest town over in the relative safety of the Kurdish-controlled part of northern Iraq.

We met the three Khalaf brothers- Saleh, Murad, and Hassan – and their families, who fled from Sinjar. They used to live in stone houses next to each other back home. Now, all 19 of them – including their elderly mother – live in one room in a small home in Sharia.

Saleh and Murad spoke in detail about their escape. Hassan was less willing. He started to recount his family’s escape, then said: “What is this interview for? What do I get from this? We need food and water.”

Saleh’s daughter Salwa, 15, the eldest of his six children, started to cry outside remembering how she left her schoolbook – her future – behind.

Her little cousin, Dilvan, kept tugging at Salwa’s long hair. Dilvan’s own, sandy blonde hair is cut in a rugged short crop. “She misses her hair,” Salwa explained. “We had to cut it on the road, it got so dirty.”

In Dohuk city, we came across a big warehouse where dozens of Yazidi families had spread blankets and mattresses. They said they had nowhere else to go. The warehouse, belonging to a factory owner, may not be their home for long though. The owner has come over twice this week to tell them they can’t live there.

One group of young men at the warehouse led me to a corner where an old lady was hunched over, rocking, on a black and purple blanket. Thick, almost gel-like tears seemed plastered to her face. Her son then stepped through the group to introduce her as his mother, Hashar Saleh. He said she was about 90 years old, maybe older. No one really knew.

She was blind, he said, and very confused about what has happened. “I’m blind I can’t see,” she said, when we asked her if she knew why they had to flee and who the insurgents were. “I only hear about Daesh,” she said, using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State.

Ms. Saleh’s son said she sits in that corner all day, rocking, crying, and repeating one sentence:  “Don’t leave me my son. Don’t leave me my son.”

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(via WSJ Blogs)