Can celebrity humanitarianism really help resolve the unmet needs of the Yazidi community?
This month, British pop singer of Albanian origin, Dua Lipa, met with Yazidi human rights activist Nadia Murad. After several virtual meetings via Zoom, both Lipa and Murad were able to unite and discuss a number of topics, including the indescribable horrors inflicted on the Yazidi community by the Islamic State group (IS).
Nadia Murad, a survivor of sexual violence perpetrated by IS members, was kidnapped in 2014 and sold into sex slavery during the armed conflict of 2013-2017. During her escape, she managed to cross into Iraqi Kurdistan and settle in camps with other Yazidis. She soon arrived in Europe and found refuge in Germany.
Since leaving northern Iraq where Nadia lived with her family, she has gone on to found Nadia’s Initiative, a non-profit organisation that provides support to survivors of sexual violence and seeks to restore neighbourhoods affected by conflict. Nadia is also the co-recipient of the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize and is currently an advocate for Sustainable Development Goals appointed by Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary-General of the United Nations.
"To this day, the majority of [sexual violence] survivors are living in perilous circumstances without access to various forms of financial support"
While most recognise Dua Lipa as the new leading princess of pop, the singer has recently been recognised for her philanthropic activities throughout the years.
Together with her father Dukagjin Lipa, she co-created the Sunny Hill Foundation in 2016 to raise money to assist civilians in Kosovo experiencing financial difficulties. In August 2018, for example, Dua Lipa coordinated a festival to raise money for that foundation, called the Sunny Hill Festival.
Then, in April 2019, she became a UNICEF supporter during a three-day visit to a camp for refugee children and youth in Beirut, Lebanon. The camp mainly comprised of civilians who, as a consequence of the Syrian conflict, were deprived of sufficient health care and education.
In an Instagram photo with Nadia Murad, Dua Lipa said: “I’m looking forward to sharing with you the amazing work she does and the work we will do together.”
Despite the unambiguity of what the collaborative work will involve, Dua Lipa’s determination to work closely with Nadia Murad will be significant in terms of improving the support currently given to the Yazidi community. According to a number of reports published this year, Yazidi survivors are facing a number of challenges, including beneficial support during the recovery from the war against IS.
With a specific focus on Covid-19, the pandemic has complicated support to the Yazidi community. Throughout the past two years, especially during the first half of the health crisis, countries have focused domestically on the pandemic.
11 young Yazidis took their lives during the first 16 days of 2021
However, those on the edge of protection – the displaced, conflict-stricken and survivors of sexual and gender-based violence – were shoved further into the borders. The impact that this neglect has had on the Yazidi community includes heightened vulnerability to contracting Covid and the rapid deterioration in mental health.
According to research carried out by the University of Duhok, 11 young Yazidis took their lives during the first 16 days of 2021. That being said, bundled cases of suicide have been evolving in IDP camps since the 2014 genocide inflicted by IS.
Despite the easing of lockdown and restriction measures in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, Yazidi survivors of sexual violence are still awaiting financial support.
To this day, the majority of survivors are living in perilous circumstances without access to various forms of financial support. Over the past few years, the assistance provided to survivors has mainly come from humanitarian organisations and the international community, operating mainly in regions with a high number of internally displaced Yazidis.
This level of support, however, is not enough. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), which receives funds from the federal government of Iraq, remains vital to the strength of Kurdistan. In response to the struggle and survival of Yazidis post-Islamic State, the Iraqi government provided one-time financial support to address the critical needs of the Yazidi community. The support provided was implemented via the Yazidi Survivors’ Grant and social welfare payments to a restricted number of survivors.
"Looking ahead in light of the challenges raised, support to the Yazidi community, whether its in the form of celebrity humanitarianism, political interventions, or NGO assistance, future policymaking must consider the unmet needs of the Yazidis"
As stated by Al-Jazeera, the reality of the support received by the Iraqi government is that survivors are not receiving the support needed while living in dangerous conditions. Under these circumstances, one can only imagine the heightened trauma and vulnerabilities amongst the community.
In March 2021, the Iraqi parliament passed a law aimed at heightening support to Yazidi female survivors. Viewed as a ground-breaking piece of legislature and the first of its kind in Iraq, the law considers different acts of sexual violence in conflict as acts of genocide to be put at the centre of legislation.
Key terms of the law include provisions to be paid to survivors of sexual violence, as well as other types of victims. It also includes provisions to address many of the survivors’ key needs through assistance in areas such as physical and mental health, housing, incomes, employment and restarting education.
While the law sounds promising, challenges to the law’s implementation are abundant. Thus far, challenges have included tense political situations and the lack of budgetary allocations to the KRG. In response to the challenges, the Directorate for Survivors Affairs, a body established to execute the law requested funds to introduce the application procedure that individuals must go through in order to receive the afore-mentioned benefits.
In the meantime, Yazda, a psycho-social support and women’s centre based in Duhok, Iraq co-facilitated a workshop with IOM Iraq, United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq-UNAMI, and the Institute for International Law and Human Rights on 21 November 2021.
Participants discussed core components of the application form to be used by survivors to submit their reparation claims. Attendants spoke about the content of the application form and how to make it survivor-focused so that future applicants can comprehend and fill it out easily. Although the Directorate is not receiving applications yet, the application procedure is allegedly opening at the beginning of next year.
In light of recent events, the deportation of Kurds during the 2021 Belarus-European Union border crisis further demonstrates the extra support needed among the Yazidi community.
Of those being deported back to Kurdistan, the Yazidi community from the Kurdistan region were identified as vulnerable to the crisis. After leaving the trauma inflicted by IS, a recent Middle East Eye investigation found that Yazidis were being left to witness the new trauma of Belarus and return to their homes.
During the investigation, it was reported that some of the deported families could not afford a taxi to their homes from Erbil airport. The impact that the deportation crisis will have on the Yazidis is incredibly problematic, not only in terms of mental health deterioration but also in terms of resettling in spaces where there are few job opportunities and post-IS reconstruction is slow.
Looking ahead in light of the challenges raised, support to the Yazidi community, whether it's in the form of celebrity humanitarianism, political interventions, or NGO assistance, future policymaking must consider the unmet needs of the Yazidis.
This includes taking on the opportunity to rebuild from Covid-19 and paying particular attention to the intensified impacts of the pandemic on post-conflict areas. That said, further work must be implemented to encourage communities to develop a healthier, more thriving, and peaceful future.
Zainab Mehdi is a Researcher and Freelance Journalist specialising in governance, development, and conflict in the middle east and north Africa region.
Follow her on Twitter: @zaiamehdi