Humanitarian Pathways and Ezidi Family Unification in Europe Ten Years After Genocide

Executive Summary

This year marks ten years since the Ezidi genocide,1 which has been recognized by many countries, including France, Germany, and the Netherlands. What does such recognition mean? Historically and morally, genocide recognition has meant a commitment to holding perpetrators accountable and ensuring survivors receive reparations. It has not entailed an insistence that survivors return to the place they were targeted for genocide – especially if they would likely face violence or precarity there.2 And yet, this is precisely what governments and international organizations expect of Ezidis at a time of increasing insecurity in the Iraq-Türkiye-Syria border region and a lack of adequate shelter and basic services in the Sinjar region of northern Iraq from which Ezidis fled the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) a decade ago. ​

Ten years on, displaced Ezidi survivors have little prospect of safely returning to their homes in Iraq – and those who do face ongoing threats, deprivation, and marginalization. Meanwhile, they lack safe pathways to Europe, where they have relatives. Further, many  in Europe live in an untenable limbo, lacking secure legal status or integration support.

In late 2023, Refugees International and Voice of Ezidis (VoE) interviewed Ezidis who made harrowing journeys through Türkiye to Greece. Some told the team that they lost, left behind, or were separated from family members en route. In Greece, the team found that Ezidis had a high refugee grant rate but received minimal support finding work, housing, or health services or bringing over their children and parents from Iraq. As a result, after receiving refugee status in Greece, many of the Ezidis we spoke to moved on to unite with relatives in Germany and the Netherlands, where they apply for asylum all over again. Their ability to stay in Germany is jeopardized by a rising asylum denial rate and a return agreement with the Iraqi government. In the Netherlands, they are living in limbo (and separated from relatives left in Iraq) because of long application processing times. For many Ezidi survivors from the historically tight-knit community, family reunification was among their primary concerns times.

The Ezidi experience is indicative of so many of the problems with European refugee policy: the lack of safe pathways, poor reception conditions in frontline European states, secondary migration within Europe, and complicated and backlogged procedures. The new EU Pact on Migration and Asylum is an opportunity to pilot policies that will better support Ezidis seeking protection and integration in Europe. Further, European countries should consult with Ezidi-led organizations like Voice of Ezidis to develop new policies that support survivors and model humane migration management. Humanitarian and family unification pathways should be a component of genocide recognition by European countries. 

Recommendations 

To the European Union:

  • Establish a European humanitarian visa specifically for survivors of genocides recognized by member states.
  • Encourage member states to prioritize relocation of Ezidi asylum seekers and refugees from Greece to states where they have family ties – the “meaningful links” described in relation to the Pact on Migration and Asylum’s solidarity mechanism. 
  • Encourage member states to recognize the Ezidi Genocide, to engage and consult with Ezidi-led organizations in the development of humanitarian and family unification programs for Ezidis in Iraq, and resettle Ezidis who register with UNHCR in countries of first asylum like Türkiye and Lebanon. 

To the government of Greece:

  • Ensure that Ezidi families are not separated in different camps, that they have access to needed health care while in camps, and that there is increased transparency about, and access to, effective translation during the adjudication of their applications for asylum. 
  • Expand access to housing and, in cooperation with refugee-led organizations like Voice of Ezidis, develop integration programming for recognized Ezidi refugees (such as language classes and job training). 
  • Improve refugee family unification for Ezidis by easing requirements and documentation and certification (for Greek asylum service and Greek consulates). 

 To the government of Germany:

  • Stop deporting Ezidis to Iraq, where they have a well-founded fear of persecution and risk of violence, lack basic necessities of life, and cannot safely or practically live in areas of the country where they lack community or a way to support themselves.
  • Give Ezidis who have come to Germany from Iraq since the summer of 2014 residence permits for international law and humanitarian reasons in accordance with Section 23 of the Residence Act. 
  • Allow Ezidis in Greece (and other EU member states where they lack adequate support such as Cyprus) to be eligible for humanitarian admission programs to particular German states. 

To the government of France:

  • Process Ezidi visa applications submitted in Erbil and develop an Ezidi family unification program modeled on Canada’s program for extended family members of survivors. 

To the government of the Netherlands:

  • Develop a family unification program for relatives in Iraq of Ezidis who have gained asylum in the Netherlands. This is a common sense approach given support in the Dutch House of Representatives for a pathway to the Netherlands from Iraq for Ezidis and the operational challenges of using refugee resettlement for this purpose (as UNHCR will not refer Ezidis in Iraq for resettlement). 
  • As a solidarity measure under the Pact on Migration and Asylum, relocate from Greece asylum seeking or refugee relatives (including those beyond immediate family) of Ezidis who are in the process of applying for asylum in the Netherlands or who have been granted asylum and are applying for family unification in the Netherlands. 

Methodology 

In November 2023, Refugees International and Voice of Ezidis traveled to Greece to interview Ezidis there, mostly in a refugee camp in Serres in northern Greece, about 85 km northeast from Thessaloniki and about 300 km west of the Turkish land border, where they made up the vast majority (1,243 out of 1,535) of camp residents.3 We also interviewed Ezidis living in camps near Thessaloniki (Lagadikia camp) and Athens (Oinoftya Refugee Camp). In total, we spoke to 44 Ezidi individuals or representatives of families. All but 11 of them had relatives in other countries in Europe, especially in Germany and secondarily in the Netherlands.4 

Refugees International and Voice of Ezidis also spoke with Greek refugee camp staff, representatives of NGOs working with refugees in Greece and on migration policy in the EU, and officials of EU member states. Voice of Ezidis also visited Germany and the Netherlands in March 2024 to speak to Ezidis seeking refuge there as well as to representatives of Ezidi partner organizations such as Netherlands Help Yazidis and the

Yazidi Legal Network (in the Netherlands) and the Farida Global Organization and the International Federation of Ezidi organizations (in Germany). Voice of Ezidis is also in  constant contact with Ezidi families in Iraq, as well as with Yazda and members of the Ezidi Youth Network based in villages of the Sinjar region about conditions there. 

Disaggregated statistics of the number of Ezidis in Iraq and the EU are unavailable. This report provides best approximations of the size of the community.

Insecurity in Iraq and the Need for Another Way to Rebuild 

Ten years after ISIS killed or captured more than 10,000 Ezidis and destroyed Ezidi homes and businesses, temples, schools, irrigation systems, and farm land, more than 200,000 Ezidis remain displaced in camps in Kurdistan and the disputed territory of northern Iraq. Though the Iraqi government is taking measures – including paying and promising jobs to those who leave – in order to close the camps, the Ezidis that Refugee International and VoE spoke to in Greece said they did not feel they could safely and viably rebuild their lives in their former home towns, many of which remain in “no return” areas in Sinjar and to its south.5 These areas are insecure and lack infrastructure, services (including water and electricity), and institutions (like schools and hospitals). 

Many of the Ezidis we spoke to in Greece were among the 4,000 who left Iraq in fear in the summer of 2023. After Ezidis protested the return to Sinjar in spring 2023 of Sunni Arabs who they said helped ISIS, threats and hate against Ezidis spread on social media, falsely claiming Ezidis had burned a Sunni mosque in Sinjar. Some of the attacks against Ezidis were by Kurds, who accused Ezidis of being ungrateful. The Ezidis we interviewed described control over their former home region as contested by the distrusted Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP, which controls Iraqi Kurdistan), militias (the PKK and PMF) with transnational ties, hostile Türkiye, and a resurgent ISIS. The result is a lack of political say for Ezidis, regular Turkish airstrikes, recruitment by militias, and checkpoints manned by armed men speaking anything but the local dialect.6  

Many of the people we interviewed in Greece had spent years in misery in camps and had lost hope for a brighter future in Iraq. We spoke to a genocide survivor who felt compelled to leave Iraq after suffering serious burns and losing her husband and three children in one of the frequent fires that tear through internal displacement camps there. For her, repair means joining her relatives in the Netherlands and getting the medical treatment she needs there. She could not get this care in her home region in Iraq, where hospitals are difficult to access and lack equipment. Authorities in Baghdad and Erbil continue to disagree (with each other and among themselves) over political and economic reconstruction of Sinjar and to impose security restrictions on the flow of goods into the region, making it harder to get medicine. Over and over again, Ezidis we interviewed in Greece described the impossibility of having operations, surgeries, or specialized medical procedures (some to address injuries sustained in 2014) and getting medicine and treatment for chronic illness in Iraq. Those who are disabled, including children, cannot access needed services. 

The Ezidis we interviewed had little confidence that the Iraqi government would restore what they lost in the past let alone protect them in the present or future. Over 2,800 Ezidi women and children remain missing since 2014, including the mother of one of the Ezidis we interviewed in Greece. Under Iraqi laws for survivors, few Ezidis have received reparations based on their abductions or compensation for destroyed property. Given the difficulty to navigate the extensive (cumbersome, expensive, and drawn out) application process, and the lack of compensation actually paid out, many Ezidis rationally decide it is not worth the effort applying. This was the case for a man we spoke to who lost 38 family members during the genocide, spent eight years in Kurdistan, and returned to Sinjar to find “everything destroyed.” People displaced as minors who are now adults do not have land or homes to return to or to be eligible for support to repair or rebuild.

Those who have tried to return find it impossible to subsist, let alone thrive. A woman we spoke to explained how she and her family fled and hid in the Sinjar mountain in 2014, walked to Syria, and then spent a year in a camp near Dohuk. When they returned to their hometown, they found their house leveled, and they had to live in someone else’s home (a common occurrence among returning survivors). With conditions becoming increasingly difficult, she was traveling with her young children with the goal of joining her older daughter in France, where she has been living for several years. Another man from near Mosul told us that, over the course of a year, he had to change his ID four times – a testament to Iraq’s fraught classification of Ezidis and barriers he faced trying to live and travel in an insecure and politically contested region. His elderly parents lacked consistent water and electricity (important for his father’s workshop in Sinjar) and got no support from government; they urged him to go to Germany to join his two brothers, who sought asylum there just after the genocide in 2015. A college graduate, he hoped to work there in agronomy or agricultural extension, perhaps start a seed company. But, most important to him was that “Ezidis be together in Germany. Community is the first thing.” For the tightly knit and endogamous Ezidi community, rebuilding requires uniting and gathering together. 

Many Ezidis do not feel they can build that community in their former home towns, which are now predominantly Kurdish Muslim and where their religious expression and practice is restricted. History helps to explain this reluctance and mistrust. As part of an Arabization policy begun in the 1970s, thousands of Ezidis were deported from their ancestral villages in the mountains and resettled into underserviced collective townships in the plains that were joined administratively with Arab villages. The process not only deprived Ezidis of land titles and disrupted their agricultural and cultural way of life but made them more vulnerable to sectarian violence during the Iraq war in the 2000s and then to ISIS in 2014. Many Ezidis blame the Kurdish Peshmerga for withdrawal or complicity in the face of Ezidi persecution and the KDP for manipulation of Ezidi displacement for political gain. 

Other Ezidis do not want to return to villages that are mass graveyards, with many graves yet to be exhumed. For many Ezidis, returning to these villages would be unnecessarily traumatic. One Ezidi man we interviewed was from Kocho, which experienced some of the worst of ISIS’s brutality during the genocide, including the execution of many Ezidi men and elderly women and abduction of young women and children. Since then, Ezidi organizations, international organizations, and Nobel Peace Prize winner Nadia Murad, who is from Kocho, have raised awareness of what happened there and have attempted to address the needs of survivors. Today, Kocho is in many ways a memorial. The man we interviewed believed that his life in Kocho was over and did not want to tell us his story of what happened there. “Nothing changes when I tell it, and I have told it so many times,” he said. He wanted to move on and start over elsewhere. 

The combination of increased insecurity and fear of persecution among Ezidis, lack of opportunity and political marginalization in Sinjar, and pressure to leave IDP camps has led – and will continue to lead – many to consider migration as an alternative way to recover from genocide. In the immediate wake of the genocide, many Ezidis were given refuge in Europe. Families living in IDP camps frequently have one relative who has returned to a home village in Sinjar and others who have gone to Europe – where they are rebuilding their lives and community. The Ezidis who have taken risky journeys to join their families in Europe in the last few years are sending a very clear message to Ezidi leaders and the international community: their durable solution and their future is not in Iraq. 

Dangerous Journeys and Family Separation 

Without family unification and or other humanitarian pathways from Iraq to Europe, Ezidis have to turn to unsafe routes and smugglers. This leads to separation from the start or on the way. Some families in Iraq cannot travel together because of the prohibitive cost (about €1,500 per adult and half that for children, according to the Ezidis we spoke to) or because family members could not make the difficult journey (because of old age, youth, or infirmity). One woman at the camp in Serres only wanted to tell us about her worry for the two-year-old child she and her husband left behind. Her goal is to go to the Netherlands – where her husband has relatives – and apply for asylum and then bring her child directly there. Given how long it takes to achieve this – fifteen months to process an asylum decision, and 81 weeks for family unification in the Netherlands – she will be separated from her child for several years. 

The unsafe route out of Iraq created other risks of family separation. One family of seven described leaving in two cars: husband and wife traveling with daughters aged 13 and nine and three sons – aged 21, 18, and 14 – in a second car. When the sons had some car trouble near the border entering Greece and could not say where their parents were, the Greek authorities called the Turkish authorities who arrested and imprisoned them and then deported them by bus to Iraq, where they were living on their own near Khatare with few resources. Another woman at the camp in Serres told us that she left the same area of Iraq with her two sons (17 and 20). Her elder son was arrested by Turkish police and sent back to Iraq. The heads of both of these families have several brothers settled in Germany. 

Many of the people we interviewed in Serres described experiencing or witnessing hardships or violence on their journey, at the Turkish-Greek border, and after crossing into Greece. Two families said their youngest children almost died (because of sickness and lack of food and water) en route. One woman said she tried to cross the border from Türkiye three times before succeeding but that the Turkish police stole all her belongings. A couple described being pushed back over the border by Greek guards and how a man traveling with them was beaten so badly crossing into Greece that he died two days later. One Ezidi family lost an adult daughter in the river crossing between Türkiye and Greece and have still not been able to learn anything about her whereabouts, despite informing the Greek Red Cross. Another man said that, after crossing into and driving for a while in Greece, a family friend and two young children he was traveling with were arrested by Greek police and sent to Türkiye. From there, they were deported to Iraq.

Families were separated between camps after arrival in Greece as well. One mother had her sixteen-year-old daughter with her at the Serres camp but could do nothing to be reunited with four other children (aged 20, 22, 10, and 12) in another camp in northern Greece. One 23-year-old woman we spoke to had been living with her 12-year-old nephew at the camp for six months in a room that did not have access to a shower. She had thought her stay at Serres would be temporary because her ailing mother was living in another camp. “I wished with my heart, and only thought afterwards of my body,” she said of wanting to go to her mom and suffering physically in the camp. When her nephew developed a skin ailment and she had a sore throat, they had to go to the Serres hospital to get medicine but could not communicate effectively with the medical staff there. She feels helpless but tries to conceal her crying from her nephew.

The Preventable Death of an Ezidi Boy 

Breen (pseudonym) was four years old in August 2014 when his family was displaced from south of Sinjar to the Dawoodiya IDP camp. The family later went to Shixka village in the Nineveh plain, where Breen’s father worked as a mechanic to try to support the education of Breen and his four siblings. In July 2023, the family sent Breen to Europe with his cousins. He spent three days in the forest between Türkiye and Greece, where he fell ill, and then eight months in a refugee camp in northern Greece, where he received inadequate medical care. After gaining refugee status in Greece, he traveled to join his uncle in the Netherlands, arriving there in late March 2024. A few weeks later, he suddenly became very weak and sick. Breen died on May 9, 2024 of the bacterial infection he caught in the forest on the journey.

Ezidis in Greece: Getting an ‘Ausweis’ to Nowhere

On the first day Voice of Ezidis and Refugees International were at the Serres camp, everybody we spoke to – from the camp manager to the guards to the Ezidi residents – referred to the Greek asylum seeker ID as an “Ausweis,” the word for a German identification card. This was because of an open secret: Greece relatively quickly granted almost all Ezidis refugee status and gave them passports so that they could leave for Germany, where they re-apply for asylum. This policy was devised when the numbers of Ezidis arriving in northern Greece began to increase in 2021 and 2022 and continued through 2023. It is important to emphasize the relatively small and manageable nature of this population of not more than 3,000 or 4,000 people per year at most. 

Though considered one of the better camps in Greece, conditions in the Serres camp7 were poor – the containers were filled with bugs and in disrepair, and there was minimal health care and hygiene supplies available. The library building was being used to store blankets. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) was no longer at the camp to help arrange trips to the local hospital, where there were also no translators. The only NGO catering to residents – Lifting Hands International – runs a community center near the camp that offers language classes (in English, Dutch and German), workshops on health, sewing, and woodwork, a women friendly space, some distribution of food, hygiene supplies and clothes, daycare programming for young children, and an afterschool program for older kids. Some Ezidi school-age children at the camp attend Greek schools in Serres.

Some Ezidi asylum applications – within the same family – take much longer than others for no apparent reason – and with little explanation. Hired lawyers are little help because of a lack of transparency from Greek authorities. Since only asylum seekers (not those granted refugee status) are eligible for a small monthly stipend and for food at the camp, mixed status families frequently have to share meals and cannot afford needed supplies and medicine. Ezidis did what they could to beautify the camp and build community: one container displayed a flag commemorating the Ezidi genocide and another bore a mural of a peacock. Though camp residents played soccer together, fights also flared up between Ezidis and Palestinians (who made up 6 percent of camp residents when we visited).  

Once recognized as refugees, Ezidis must leave the camp (usually within a month). There are few opportunities for asylum seekers to find work near the camp while awaiting a decision or after gaining refugee status. And finding housing is almost impossible. An integration program for refugees – supported by IOM – that includes housing support was suspended while the research team was in Greece. It has since been reinstated but meets a small fraction of the huge demand. Indeed, living conditions in Greece are so bad for recognized refugees that German (and Dutch) courts have held that returning refugees there would subject them to “serious risk of inhuman or degrading treatment” within the meaning of Article 4 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and Article 3 ECHR because they would be unable to meet their most basic needs. But, on the team’s last day at Serres, an Ezidi man arrived at the camp who had just been deported from Germany. What the camp director called a “legal trick” seems to no longer be a sure thing: Ezidis were getting Ausweise to nowhere. And, as discussed further below, this is seemingly reinforced by the Pact on Migration and Asylum’s provision rendering inadmissible applications for asylum by those granted international protection in another member state. 

Several Ezidi families we spoke to, especially those without relatives elsewhere in Europe, said that they would stay in Greece if it were only possible for them to support themselves and their families. There is also no Ezidi community or diaspora organization in Greece to ground them there. One man we spoke to at Serres said he would be glad to work at his trade – a barber – in Greece, but did not know where to find a place to live and worried about bringing his wife and two young children to Greece because of Greece’s notoriously difficult and lengthy reunion procedure.8 Another young Ezidi couple who were about to have a baby said they would be glad to remain in Greece – but were concerned about finding a place to live. 

Serres camp, November 2023. Photo by Refugees International and Voice of Ezidis.

Lack of Safe Pathways to Europe – and Possible Paths to Establish  

The lack of safe pathways to Europe – especially to countries where such pathways for Ezidis formerly existed – pushes many Ezidis to travel to Türkiye, to hire smugglers to get them to Greece, and from there they move on to Germany, the Netherlands, or France to unite with relatives. There are ways that each of these countries, and the EU as a whole, can create pathways that would allow Ezidis to unite with family, rebuild their lives, and contribute to their new communities. As the mother of three children born in an IDP camp said: “I want more for my children than life in a camp, to join my parents, two sisters and two brothers in Germany, to learn the language so I can be understood in the market, and to cook excellent dolma and biryani. A regular life.”

Germany

Ezidis began migrating to Germany from Türkiye as refugees (fleeing from Turkish forced participation in Muslim religious education, among other measures) and as guest workers in significant numbers in the 1980s. Germany is home to the largest Ezidi diaspora in the world (estimated at about 250,000 people). But Ezidis are now in the crosshairs of German political jockeying over migration control.  

In the immediate aftermath of the 2014 genocide, a selective humanitarian admissions program allowed 1,100 Ezidi women and their children who had been captives of ISIS to resettle in municipalities in  Baden-Württemberg (1,000), Schleswig Holstein (70), and Lower Saxony (30) in 2015. While host communities wanted to welcome them, and while the refugees wanted to rebuild their lives and contribute to their new communities, the women were also housed far from each other and separated from their male relatives who were forced to remain in Iraq. The temporary and locality-based status of women in Germany did not allow them to apply for family unification. As one man in Iraq told Voice of Ezidis: “Germany took my wife and my children.” In 2016, the state of Brandenburg started a new special visa program to bring 72 Ezidis to Germany; the selection and vetting process was so extensive that they did not begin to arrive in Germany until 2019. 

Between 2014 and 2017, group persecution was assumed for those who sought protection in Germany and credibly claimed they were Ezidis. Those granted asylum have the right to submit an application for family reunification, but only for spouses and minor, unmarried children and parents of unaccompanied minors.9 The aspiring agronomist from Mosul we met in Serres has adult siblings in Germany with refugee status, but he is not eligible to unite with them. Another woman we spoke to in Greece was the only member of her family not in Germany. In 2014, her young brother went to Germany to seek asylum. After he gained refugee status, he applied for family reunification, which was possible for her parents and siblings but not for her (as she was already 20 in 2014). She, like the man from Mosul, turned to a smuggler to get to Greece and, from there, planned to go join her family in Germany. 

Between 2019 and April 2022, Germany ‘de-prioritised’ cases from applicants who had already been granted international protection in Greece (which left applicants in legal limbo), but currently Ezidis granted refugee status in Greece have their refugee claims re-examined on the merits in Germany.10 A few thousand Ezidis each year continue to seek asylum in Germany, but the asylum grant rate for Ezidis dropped from 91.8 percent in 2017 to 48.6 percent in 2022. Many of those denied are given a “Duldung,” a tolerated stay, which provides no right to subsequent immigration of family members and which can be (and have been) revoked in the wake of Germany’s January 2023 agreement with Iraq on returns.

Made in secret, it consists of an agreement to “readmit nationals who do not or no longer fulfill the required conditions for entry, presence or residence” and to help establish identity of individuals to be returned and promptly issue travel documents to them. Since then, there has been one reported case of Ezidi deportation from Germany to Iraq resulting in family separation and another resulting in death. In the wake of protests by Ezidis in Germany, the states of Thuringia and North Rhine-Westphalia banned deportation of Ezidi women and children (but not men) for three months. Ezidis fear deportation from elsewhere in Germany. Many have been living in Germany for several years, have learned German, and are eager to continue working and rebuilding their lives in Germany. In March 2024, even as Ezidis were gathered together in West Munsterland to plan a German funded memorial to the genocide, the regional government of Swabia sent a letter to an Ezidi family (who had a child born in Nordlingen in 2020) informing them “there are no longer any obstacles to deportation in your case” to Iraq. A large number of Iraqis were reportedly deported from Germany in May 2024, when there was  a meeting in Munich between Iraqi and German officials to discuss returns. 

There are provisions within German law that could be used to increase humanitarian admissions and decrease Ezidi use of unsafe migration routes. Ezidis in Greece (or other EU states like Cyrus, see textbox) that lack support could be eligible for admission programs to particular German states or for relocation to Germany. Germany could also extend residence permits to Ezidi survivors in Germany, a policy that certainly seems warranted given Ezidi well founded fear of return.  

Ezidis in Cyprus

The refusal of the EU to find durable solutions for small numbers of Ezidis is epitomized by the current situation in Cyprus. As of May 2024, there is a group of approximately 140 Ezidi recognized refugees and registered asylum seekers in Cyprus. 11 Ezidis have recently been deported from Cyprus to Iraq, and a family of five have received deportation papers. Ezidi asylum seekers in Cyprus receive very little support and access to the labor market and live under “extremely dire conditions.” Recognized refugees cannot find jobs to pay high rents and are unable (because of restrictions on naturalizations and lengthy wait times for family reunification) to integrate or bring their relatives to Cyprus. Jesuit Refugee Services provide financial support to families who opt to return to Iraq, but there is no way for Ezidis to unite with their families in other EU member states. All of the Ezidis in Cyprus have immediate or second degree relatives in other European countries, but mainly in Germany, which could prioritize them for relocation

The Netherlands

Concern about treatment in Germany is leading Ezidis to seek refuge in the Netherlands, especially if they have relatives there. There is a small community of a few hundred Ezidi families in the Netherlands, clustered in Breda, Almere, and Amsterdam, where there are Ezidi-led organizations who focus on justice for survivors. 

The Netherlands never established a humanitarian admissions program for Ezidis in the immediate aftermath of the genocide. But, widespread condemnation of the Dutch government’s decision to allow deportation of Ezidis in 2019 led to reversal of that policy and to consideration of Ezidis as members of a vulnerable ethnic group for the purpose of asylum and residency in the Netherlands. Though as of April 2024, the Dutch circular lists Ezidis as a vulnerable group whose members cannot be safely returned to Iraq, Ezidi organizations in the Netherlands are concerned that the government may be considering revoking the special consideration accorded Ezidi asylum seekers.11  

In 2022, because of a refusal to invest in the asylum system and a housing shortage in the Netherlands, the Dutch immigration service extended the time limit to issue an asylum decision (from 6 to 15 months) and reception centers for asylum seekers became crowded and conditions deteriorated. In the wake of a court rebuke, the Dutch government began placing asylum seekers in temporary locations such as office buildings or hotels. The team spoke to an Ezidi family in Serres whose relatives were living in such an accommodation in Beekbergen. Further, since November 2022, the Dutch authorities determined that beneficiaries of international protection from Greece who apply for asylum in the Netherlands will not be sent back to Greece but rather have their asylum cases heard in the Netherlands after a 15-month wait. 

Some Ezidis we met who received refugee status in Greece are currently waiting – and will certainly remain waiting for many months – for an asylum decision in the Netherlands. In March 2024, Voice of Ezidis spoke to an asylum seeker who arrived in the Netherlands in December 2023, had an interview in late January 2024, and is waiting for a decision in a hotel-turned-reception-center in Amsterdam. He is eager for a decision so he can bring over his wife and children from Sinjar. Those granted protection in the Netherlands can then apply to bring over spouses and minor children (and, in certain instances, adult children and parents), though the process is very lengthy and can be difficult (especially if the relatives have difficulty getting identity documents). The Dutch also have developed a program of placing Ezidi minors who arrive unaccompanied with host Ezidi families.

The Dutch House of Representatives recently requested resettlement of Ezidis from Iraq to the Netherlands. A family reunion pathway for Ezidis in the Netherlands would effectively answer many of the concerns (about eligibility, administration, and justification) raised by the Dutch government in response to this request. The pathway could be designed to unite Ezidi relatives in Iraq with Ezidis who have been granted asylum by the Dutch government. Such a pathway would promote better recovery and integration in the Netherlands and serve as an alternative to unsafe and irregular migration. The Dutch could also consider a resettlement program for Ezidi genocide survivors registered with UNHCR in Türkiye. We interviewed a man in Serres who fled in 2014 to Syria and then Türkiye and lived in camps in Diyarbakir, Mardin, and Midyat. Most of the Ezidi survivors in Türkiye are registered with UNHCR and have spent years waiting for resettlement. 

France

There are over 10,000 Ezidis in France, but pathways for Ezidis to France have been unnecessarily limited. Despite promises from the French government, Ezidi women and children (former ISIS captives) admitted as part of a special admissions program initiated by Nadia Murad in 2018 have been unable to bring over their relatives. France also has a visa program that Ezidis can apply for at the French consulate in Erbil – so long as they have sponsors and housing in France arranged. However – and despite commitments from President Macron – processing of these applications has ground to a halt. Rather than facilitate reunion of families in France, the government has shifted to supporting Ezidis return to Iraq and the rebuilding of Sinjar. Despairing that visa applications submitted in Iraq will ever move, Ezidis seek out other ways to get to France – especially by traveling through Türkiye to Greece and from there to France. A woman we spoke to in Greece had a sponsor in France and submitted an application for a visa, but with no news about her case, paid smugglers to take her to Greece in the summer of 2023. She had to leave without her husband, since they did not have the money for both of them to travel. 

The French government should process visa applications in Erbil but should also consider creating a reunion pathway for relatives of survivors in France. It might model it on Canada’s family unification program for “extended family members,” which includes siblings, nieces and nephews, aunts and uncles, great aunts and uncles, grandparents, grandchildren of Ezidi survivors of ISIS living in Canada, some of whom had been resettled through a previous special program. This program might be created in conjunction with passage of the proposed French law to recognize the Ezidi genocide. Once relatives arrive in France, their integration would be supported by Voice of Ezidis and local communities. 

Voice of Ezidis Programming in France – A Model for Greece 

Voice of Ezidis (VoE) believes that uniting families is key to recovery from genocide and integration in France. For over two years, VoE has been advocating for the reunification of 62 mothers brought to France through the special admissions program with their children. It also connected Ezidi families to Ezidi-speaking psychologists and to lawyers to help with applications for reparations. In the Drome region, VoE helped 18 Ezidi families find sponsors from the local community who provided them with initial housing support, scholarships, and job offers. Voice of Ezidis also runs youth programming (like a recent picnic in Tarn) and holds events to build bridges between Ezidis and the French community. 

Modeled on successful programming in France, Voice of Ezidis aims to develop a pilot program for Ezidis without family ties elsewhere in Europe and interested in staying in Greece. VoE will link three to five Ezidi families to Greek host families and organizations who can help them with health care, language courses, and finding work opportunities. The program will be led and designed by Ezidis and Greeks in partnership with international organizations and CSOs, and with the possible support of the Greek government.  

EU Pact on Migration and Asylum – Limits and Possibilities

It is not yet clear how Ezidis seeking refuge in Europe will be impacted by the newly adopted EU Pact on Migration and Asylum, which includes directives on asylum procedure, solidarity mechanisms, and resettlement. Member states are currently developing plans to implement the directives in accord with their national laws and international law obligations, including the relevant case-law of the European Court of Human Rights. 

A major goal of the Pact is to have asylum applications examined only once and to prevent secondary migration. It also renders inadmissible applications for asylum by those who have already been granted protection in an EU member state.12 This throws into question the German and Dutch (court mandated) policies of considering applications from Ezidis granted refugee status in Greece (because conditions in Greece breach the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights). The Pact also did not incorporate the European Parliament’s suggestion to expand sibling eligibility for family unification.13

It is all the more important, then, for member states like the Netherlands and Germany to provide pathways for Ezidis through the Pact’s non-binding solidarity provision on relocation of asylum seekers and refugees from frontline member states like Greece. The Pact suggests that relocations prioritize vulnerable people14 – which Ezidi survivors of genocide certainly are – and take meaningful links like family ties into consideration. Relocation pledges can also take the form of Germany or the Netherlands not transferring Ezidi asylum seekers back to Greece.15 

The EU should also once again consider establishing an EU humanitarian visa. These visas  should not only be available to human rights defenders, as some have suggested. Unlike the EU visas proposed in 2019, these should be available to survivors of a genocide recognized by the member state (at whose Embassy or consulate the visa is applied for). Alternatively, individual member states could create humanitarian visas for survivors of genocide the state recognizes. The survivors could have to show that they need international protection and are ineligible for resettlement. This kind of visa policy – rather than an informal EU agreement with Iraq to facilitate increased deportations – is compatible with genocide recognition and more responsive to the needs of Ezidi survivors. 

The Pact’s Union Resettlement Framework calls for admission of refugees referred by UNHCR from third countries. This would not include Ezidis living in Iraq, but could pertain to Ezidi survivors in Türkiye or in Lebanon. (There are 141 Ezidi families in Lebanon who were forced to flee Syria after Turkish forces and Turkish-backed militia occupied Afrin in 2018). The inability to resettle Ezidis from Iraq under the framework makes it all the more important for member states to create humanitarian admission programs for Ezidis, especially to unite families. 

Shivan’s Story

Shivan (a pseudonym), his wife, and five children fled Gir Zarik in Sinjar in 2014 and moved to the Shariya IDP camp near Duhok. In 2015, the eldest son of the family, a young teenager, sought asylum and gained refugee status in Germany and then applied for family reunification. “We went to the interview in Türkiye in 2017,” Shivan told Voice of Ezidis and Refugees International. “But only myself and my wife were allowed to go to Germany to join my son, not my four other minor children.” This was reflective of German policy at the time.16 The family had no choice but to entrust their three younger children to the care of their 17-year-old daughter in Iraq. 

The daughter married and moved to her husband’s home before Shivan and his wife were able to bring their children over to Germany. So Shivan and his wife returned to Iraq, since there was nobody to take care of their younger children (aged 15, 13, and 10 in 2019). 

But the family felt increasingly insecure in Iraq and wanted to live together in Germany, where their eldest son was settled, working, and applying for nationality. In early 2023, Shivan and his wife and children got visas to go to Türkiye and then paid smugglers to take them to Greece, from where they hoped to go to Germany. 

Once in Greece, the smugglers robbed them of money and belongings (including their phones) and brought them to the Thessaloniki train station. There, Greek guards arrested their three older children and sent Shivan, his wife, and his youngest son to the Serres refugee camp. “We lost connection with our three children… I reached out in vain to IOM, UNICEF, and Nadia’s Initiative… Finally our children called us from near the Ibrahim Khalil crossing between Türkiye and Iraq.” They had been sent from Greece to Türkiye, where they were imprisoned and then deported to Iraq. 

When we met Shivan, he had been at the camp in Serres for eight months. He and his son had received refugee status in Greece, but his wife’s application was rejected, possibly because she had received refugee status in Germany. They are appealing the rejection.  

“After so many years of displacement and separation, our only hope is that we can be united somewhere as a family and live together in security. I still have hope in the humanity of decision makers to reconsider our struggle.”


Nostalgia’s Story

Nostalgia (a pseudonym) turned 10 in 2014, when she, her parents, and her three brothers fled to Mount Sinjar and then Kurdistan to escape ISIS. For eight years, she lived in a tent in camp Jamshko. “As the Kurmanji expression goes: ‘life gives us a dark pen but asks us to make a multicolour of our life.’ How can we enjoy life, become an amazing painter when life gives you just one dark pen? This is what we felt every day for eight years.”  

In 2016, her older brother left for Germany and obtained refugee status there. In 2020, the rest of the family returned to Sinjar but found their house destroyed so they settled in one of the neighboring ones. Her brothers had to hide from armed militias that were forcibly recruiting boys. She wanted to continue her studies in Mosul, but it was too dangerous for her to travel there alone. She felt she had no future unless she left for Europe. “You want it to be better, but you also have to have a life.”

Nostalgia and her brothers went to Türkiye but had no money to pay for visas and were sent back to Iraq by the Turkish authorities. They paid a lawyer to help them unite with their brother in Germany but never heard back. They set off for Türkiye again. They tried to cross into Greece and, three times, were stopped by Greek officers and sent back to Türkiye. “It was like a wall,” she said. On the fourth attempt, they managed to reach the Serres camp, where they had been living for more than a year when Refugees International and Voice of Ezidis visited. Her 13-year-old brother still did not have a decision on his case, but Nostalgia had been granted refugee status, so no longer received food at the camp. 

“Life is hard in the camp in Greece,” she said. “It is even more complicated for women here. If I manage to reach Germany, I would like to study psychology. I would like to be able to help women in distress, because in this camp I meet them every day. There is not really much opportunity to work outside the camp. There are many young people here, each of them has their own ambition and dreams, but they are stuck here waiting.” 

After they all had been granted refugee status, Nostalgia and her brothers left for Germany because of limited opportunities to work and study in Greece. But, Ezidis in Germany told her that her application for asylum would be denied and that she would be deported. So she left for the Netherlands, where she and her younger brothers have applied for asylum and are living in a reception center in Assen.

Nostalgia (a pseudonym) seen in a room at the Serres camp in Greece, November 2023. Photo by Refugees International and Voice of Ezidis.

Conclusion: “May God Find a Solution for All of You”

In a cafe just outside the Oinoftya Refugee Camp near Athens, we spoke to Biwar (pseudonym), a 24-year-old Ezidi asylum seeker, and his grandmother, who joined us by video call from Iraq. Biwar was five when his father was killed in a suicide bombing. His goal was to join his older brother in Germany. “May god find a solution for all of you,” his grandmother said because she had heard the news of deportations from Germany.

Ten years on from the Ezidi genocide, there has been little progress toward finding durable solutions for those displaced by the genocide, apart from an untenable expectation that they return to the unsafe places where they were targeted for extermination or risk unsafe journeys to live in insecure limbo in Europe. European countries should create safe pathways for them and use the newly agreed upon EU Pact to pilot new ways for them to access protection in Europe. 

If this is not done, there is a risk that genocide recognition by European states will be warped from a commitment to human rights and repair into a vehicle of exclusion and xenophobia. And, most importantly, it will leave a segment of the survivor community – both in Iraq and in the diaspora – without a meaningful and complete way to rebuild their lives in safety and reunite with each other. The best response to anti-refugee sentiment in Europe and for Ezidis themselves is increased support for safe pathways and integration – which will prove a boon for all. Such an approach in Australia has allowed Ezidis to thrive and grown local support for welcoming refugees more broadly.

Endnotes

[1] A note on spelling and names: Voice of Ezidis prefers “Ezidis” as the English spelling of the name of the ethnic community. This report will use “Ezidis” unless quoting from a text that spells the name of the group differently, such as Yazidis or Yezidis. All names of individual Ezidis in this report are pseudonyms.

[2] After the Holocaust, Jewish displaced people were explicitly recognized as entitled to resettlement by the International Refugee Organization, a predecessor to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), and not expected – let alone forced – to return to, or stay in, their home countries (Germany, Poland, etc).

[3] In the camp there were also 26 Afghans, 48 people from the DRC, 88 Palestinians, 56 Syrians, 32 Ukrainians, 10 Yemenis, 8 Eritreans, and a combined 24 others from various countries – including Armenia, Cameroon, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Iran, Mali, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan. There were 470 children in the camp, 450 of them with relatives who were not their parents. (Greek policy is to allow these children to stay with their relatives – to consider them separated but not unaccompanied). Of the camp’s 1,535 residents, 373 were asylum seekers, 623 were recognized refugees (many waiting for identity documents/passports), 20 were rejected asylum seekers, 32 had temporary protection (the Ukrainians), and 487 had a police note (meaning they had not yet registered to seek asylum). 

[4] Of the 44 Ezidis we interviewed, ten had no relatives outside of Iraq, 21 had relatives in Germany (mostly adult children, siblings, some uncles and cousins, one fiance), seven had relatives in the Netherlands (cousins, uncles, step-brother), two had relatives in both Germany and the Netherlands, one had uncles and aunts in Germany and the United States, one had an uncle in Belgium, one had a daughter in France, and one had a sibling in the United States.

[5] Returning to Sinjar and to its south is difficult even for those who want to. “The return grants initiated by the Ministry of Migration and Displacement to facilitate returns to Sinjar district and Qahtaniya subdistrict for those who wish to do so reportedly have unclear application procedures and uncertain disbursement timelines. Officially seeking to return also requires approval and authorization from Dohuk-based authorities in the form of a departure letter. Acquiring this letter had previously taken IDPs considerable time after they submitted the required paperwork. Yezidi IDPs noted that despite IOM’s efforts to streamline…the process remains ‘unacceptably slow.’ These delays cause additional suffering to IDPs and hinders the restoration of their normal lives [in their areas of origin].” IOM, Iraq – Prospects For Resolving Displacement In Areas Of Limited And No Return In Sinjar District And Qahtaniya Subdistrict (February 2024), 15-16.

[6] ProAsyl and Wadi, The Yazidis: There is No Going Back to the Time Before Genocide (Frankfurt, April 2024), 20.

[7] The Serres camp is actually two separate camps next to each other – Serres 1 and Serres 2. Serres 1 was on the grounds of a former agricultural school and consisted mostly of separate containers for families. Serres 2 was built to accommodate Ukrainians, but they made up only 2 percent of camp residents when we visited. Accommodations there were large barrack-like buildings split into apartments for families.

[8] The procedure requires family members abroad to submit certified copies of their identity documents, travel documents and documents proving the family links, such as family booklets. Such certification is to be carried out by Greek consular services abroad (that lack sufficient personnel for this and to promptly issue visas). Further, if the application for family unification is filed after three months of gaining refugee status, there are heighted income and property requirements that are impossible to meet given conditions in Greece for recognized refugees.

[9] A special family unification program exists for additional relatives (including siblings, parents, and grandparents) of Ezidis living in Berlin who can financially support them.

[10] A German court has ruled that when a refugee cannot be returned to Greece (since that would expose them to serious risk of being subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment within the meaning of Article 4 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (‘the Charter’) on account of the living conditions for refugees in Greece), German authorities must carry out an assessment on the merits of a new application (while taking into account the fact that the application made by the person concerned has been already examined by the authorities in Greece, which should respond to all requests for information by Germany about the case).

[11] According to the circular, the Dutch immigration authorities currently take the following into account when assessing the plausibility of an Ezidi’s fear of persecution should they be returned: “the large-scale and serious human rights violations suffered by the Yazidi minority in Iraq at the hands of IS since 2014; the general vulnerable situation in which this group has found itself since the expulsion of IS in recent years; human rights violations against the person concerned or those close to him or her; and poor living conditions, provided that this is motivated by discriminatory facts and circumstances.”

[12] Given that the CEAS [Common European Asylum System] is based on mutual trust and a presumption of compliance with fundamental rights, including the rights based on the Geneva Convention and on the European Convention of Human Rights, the fact that another Member State has already granted international protection is, as a rule, a reason for rejecting an application by the same applicant as inadmissible. Therefore, Member States should have the possibility to reject an application as inadmissible where an applicant has already been granted international protection in another Member State. In addition, an application should be considered to be inadmissible when it is a subsequent application without new relevant elements.” https://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/TA-9-2024-0177_EN.html.

[13] This not only is contrary to the UNHCR’s call for improvements to refugee family unification procedures in the EU but also works at cross purposes with the Pact’s overall goal of deterring secondary migration within the EU. 

[14] https://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/A-9-2023-0127-AM-131-131_EN.pdf

[15] The pact also provides that “A Member State should be able to derogate from the responsibility criteria at its own discretion, in particular on humanitarian, social, cultural and compassionate grounds, in order to bring together family members, relatives or any other family relations and examine an application for international protection registered with it or with another Member State, even if such examination is not its responsibility according to the criteria laid down in this Regulation.”
https://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/TA-9-2024-0179_EN.html


Featured Image: A Ezidi family takes a walk at the Serres camp in Greece, November 2023. Photo by Refugees International and Voice of Ezidis.