On World Humanitarian Day 2017, Eric Schwartz remembers Sergio Vieira de Mello, the former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights who died in a 2003 bombing in Iraq and for whom this day honoring humanitarians was created.
On World Humanitarian Day, Refugees International honors aid workers around the world who risk their lives in the service of others. Tragically, the places where people are most in need – whether in Yemen, northeast Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria, or the Democratic Republic of the Congo – are also some of the most dangerous places in the world.
This month marks the three-year anniversary of the withdrawal of an 11,000-strong Peshmerga force from Sinjar in northern Iraq. The withdrawal left Sinjar’s Yazidi minority community besieged by Islamic State (ISIS) fighters. For one displaced Yazidi family with whom I recently met in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, there is both reason to grieve and to celebrate. The head of family told me that dozens of extended family members were kidnapped by ISIS during the siege. But this anniversary also marks the first that his now 15-year-old daughter, Vian,* is home.
In the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI), a dusty camp for internally displaced people (IDPs) houses about 5,000 Iraqis, many of whom fled the Islamic State (ISIS) when the extremist group seized control of their villages in northern Iraq. In its attack on Sinjar during the summer of 2014, ISIS murdered or abducted thousands—and to this day, survivors do not know the fate of family members who disappeared in the ISIS assault. Many of the people who were able to avoid or escape the Sinjar massacre had come to Iraqi Kurdistan for safety.
Since 2014, millions of Iraqis have been displaced by Islamic State (IS) and Iraq’s ongoing military efforts to defeat the group. Even as people return home to retaken areas, more continue to be displaced.