Fleeing ISIS, Yazidis Learn English in Turkish Refugee Camps


The Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) have forced out thousands of Yazidis as they established their caliphate in Iraq and Syria. The majority fled to Turkey, and the younger Yazidis now wish to stay in Europe.

The Yazidis established a “makeshift school” for the children in Diyarbakir in southeast Turkey. The curriculum includes Arabic script, but teachers also expanded into Latin, English, social sciences, and math. Local officials and nonprofit organizations help fund the schools. The Anatolia Culture Foundation and the Chrest Foundation stepped in to help the schools, which provided 24,000 textbooks. However, Daxil Seydo, a teacher in Siirt, stressed that schools need more “textbooks, stationary and computers.”

The teachers also noticed the need to teach Latin and English since many Yazidis have expressed a desire to remain in Europe. Center for Asylum and Immigration Studies director Metin Corabatir, former UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Turkey, noticed the trend when he helped the Yazidis make their homes in these refugee camps. He told Al-Monitor:

“The Kurdish political establishment is putting an emphasis on the Kurdish language and trying to highlight their Kurdish identity. The main issue is who they stay with. Ethnically, Kurds would be most comfortable with Kurds, but Kurds here are predominantly Sunni, which is a cause of anxiety for the Yazidis. They don’t want to stay in Turkey; they don’t want to go back to Sinjar. It seems Sinjar is over for them,” Corabatir told Al-Monitor.

“In my opinion, they should be accommodated in bigger cities where they can blend in more easily. They are traumatized people and feel uneasy in conservative areas,” he said. “They are keen on the Latin script and want to learn English. They aspire to build new lives in places where they will not face oppression because of their faith. Thus, language is important. I’ve spoken to teenagers who speak relatively good English. They seem inclined not to return to their homeland.”

In June, Al-Monitor reported that many Yazidis, not just students, risked everything to leave the camps and start a new life in Europe. Officials attempt to persuade them to stay, but they have had little success in doing so. People walk “under the searing sun to the Diyarbakir bus terminal, where they try to charter buses to take them to the Turkish-Bulgarian border.” If they cannot find vehicles, the people, including women and children, walk for miles. Yazidi official Hikmet Salim explained the situation to the publication:

They rescued us from Sinjar and brought us to the camp. They have been looking after us for a year. We will not forget their kindness, but we are now forgotten. Nobody is helping us anymore. We want to go to Europe and for them to see how we have to live. There is no one more desperate than us. We have suffered everything, but we still have no rights. We’re going to Europe so that nobody would bother us and use us as political tools. Someone should help us to reach Europe. We will go, demonstrate and show ourselves. Maybe then they will receive us.

On August 3, 2014, ISIS captured the town of Sinjar in northern Iraq. Officials believe at least 2,000 Yazidis died in the attack. Another 50,000 escaped into the Sinjar Mountains, where they had no water and faced brutal heat and disease. Overall, though, 450,000 Yazidis left the Sinjar district, with some making homes in makeshift refugee camps in Turkey and Kurdistan.


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