Translate page with Google

Story Publication logo January 25, 2016

Escape from ISIS Difficult but Possible

Media file: 160118_mogelson_01-690.jpg

This year, a force comprised of Iraqi soldiers, Iranian-backed militias, Kurdish peshmerga, and...

author #1 image author #2 image
Multiple Authors
Media file: 160118_mogelson_09-690.jpg
Kurdish fighters on the western front along Highway 47, on the outskirts of Sinjar. Image by Moises Saman/Magnum Photos. Iraq, 2015.

Over the past year, a number of imprisoned Yazidis in Syria and Northern Iraq have succeeded in escaping ISIS captivity and arriving safely to Iraqi Kurdistan. A web of safe houses in ISIS-controlled Syria and Iraq function as a kind of underground railroad for Yazidi runaways. The families who live in these houses are Sunni. This November, when I met with one of the chief coordinators of the network, a Yazidi professor from the city of Dohuk, I asked him how he made contact with Yazidis who wanted to escape, and what happened next.

"It depends," he said. "This week, for example, I received a call from a man whose wife and three children are in Raqqa. He gave me their information. I gave it to a friend in Syria. That friend gave it to other friends. One of those friends went and checked. Now, they are working. They will take them out today or tomorrow."

A lucrative for-profit smuggling industry has also evolved. Payments are made via the hawala system, a cash-transfer method that relies on relationships between brokers rather than electronic wires. The smugglers themselves are all ISIS members. One Yazidi man I met this April, whose daughter was also in Raqqa, serving as a sex slave for an ISIS fighter, told me that he knew a smuggler in the city who could easily get her out. The problem was the price. The smuggler wanted $7,000, which far exceeded what the man could afford. When I asked how he knew the smuggler, the man said he was a friend.

"A friend?" I asked.

"If I opened his chest and drank all his blood, it wouldn't quench my hatred for him," the man clarified. "But I have to deal with him, if I want to save my daughter."



war and conflict reporting


War and Conflict

War and Conflict

Support our work

Your support ensures great journalism and education on underreported and systemic global issues