"We'll not give up! Never! We will free them, all of them, our enslaved women and children."

There is excitement early in the morning in Duhok. It is on television, on the radio, on social media - everywhere. It spread like wildfire. “They have liberated 36 people tonight!” We do not understand the excitement. 36 people have arrived in Duhok, which have left the terror in Mosul behind them. We see such people every day, people who have somehow managed to escape the terror of the hail of bombs and conflict in and around Mosul. Why suddenly all these bright faces? “A family is back," explains Khalil, our companion. "This was the third attempt to liberate them. And tonight, it was successful." Now we finally understand; it's about a completely different situation. A Yazidi family who had been abducted was recovered from the Islamic State and freed from their enslavement!

Khalil arranges a meeting with the head of this mission. We later stop in front of a dark building in the city center, brightly lit hotels all around. Security forces accompany us inside. Gaping emptiness surrounds us. Only three windows on the fourth floor are lit. There are cameras filming on the terrace. An interview is being carried out. It ends abruptly as we appear. A table is brought out and chairs are placed around it. We sit down. Everything seems a bit odd. However, the situation quickly becomes clear. Outside in the dark, in the midst of secret services and security people, we meet Hussein Qaidi, the head of the office for kidnapped and rescued Yazidis in Duhok, who personally led today's liberation mission. "We had to walk seven kilometers into the IS area until we were able to receive the families," he says, still visibly affected and impressed by the success of the action. "That was tonight at two o'clock; at six, we arrived back in Duhok. We made it this time, ALL of the people were rescued! We liberated five women, 26 children and five men."

We ask why the first two attempts were unsuccessful. Was the situation too dangerous? These are always dangerous, these liberation missions; indeed, they are life-threatening. However, the last attempt was broken off for another reason. One of the women had been severely injured by the bombing from airplanes. Therefore, everything was put off and the woman was taken care of first. They all wanted to flee together. No one should be left injured and alone. This is why they waited.

Again, we are impressed by the close connections and the degree of family cohesion between people here. Over the last few days, we had heard many stories about support for one another. A mother who remained behind, so that her daughter could be saved; boys and young men who fearlessly try to free their mothers, undaunted by the prospect of death. And now, this group who were abducted have returned, all 36 together. This is the most important thing for Hussein Qaidi. He stated: "We have saved over 3000 people to date. Another 2400 women and children remain captured. We want to save all of them! We won’t give up!" Again and again, the concrete details surprise me, especially in such a tumultuous war-time situation. How does the flow of information work? How is it possible to know exactly how many women and children are involved and, above all, that they are still alive?
"Of course there are contacts within IS. We know that more than half of the enslaved women and children are still alive. But we won’t know exactly before the area is liberated from IS. And when we have successfully located all of the mass graves. It is a sad truth that women and children are among those buried in these graves, even when most of them are our men. The Kurdish regional government helps us to identify the bodies with specific devices and provides people who are specialized in DNA investigations. We have found 30 mass graves so far. But it won’t be until all the cities are liberated, that we will know with certainty. "

He continues, "We know that our children, aged between 5 and 14 years old, have been brought to three different training camps, where their names and their religion have been changed. The majority of them no longer know who they really are and where they come from. Every morning and evening they are religiously indoctrinated. After the religious instruction, the children receive training with weapons and are prepared to carry out suicide bombings. They learn all the perverse killing techniques and forms of cruelty, that the IS itself perpetrates. Thus our children are raised to be enemies of their own religion and to a danger to their own families."
Intensive brainwashing has a quick effect on the children so that they come to see the 'Islamic' world of the IS as their own, and the life of the 'caliphate' as the only true one. Conversations with liberated children show their immense aggression, in combination with confusion and helplessness towards a world that has become alien to them. It will take a lot of time and patience until these young people find their feet in a world that they were brutally snatched from. Whether or not they will become a threat to society and their own families in the future will depend, among other things, on how they will be treated after their return. On what help is offered to them, so they can free themselves from this manipulated system of thinking. However, professional support is rarely available. There is an urgent need for cooperation with local relief organizations in Duhok; however, these are all already overburdened by the mass number of refugees from the regions affected by the war.
The purpose of Hussein Qaidi’s work is to plan and carry out the liberation of the enslaved individuals. Officially, his role in the relief work for these families ends after this point. However, everyone knows that the work is not over when families are brought back to Dohuk from the darkness of IS; this means the rescue operation is far from over. "We have closed this hotel and reserved it for liberated people. They can get everything for their daily needs. It is important that they receive new clothes immediately, as a symbol of shirking off the past. Medical and psychological care is immediately provided; I manage this process, visit them twice a day, and prepare everything for their future. We can only provide this help for a short time; we have to hand it over to relief organizations to support them afterwards."
Regional or national aid is not available to prepare and implement liberation missions. All further liberation activities depend on the will, the courage and the commitment of individuals. If, in some cases, paying a ransom is possible or necessary, the families are forced to try to raise huge sums to free their relatives. Many of them are prevented by this from succeeding. Even the government cannot and should not help, as by paying the ransoms, it would not only finance the liberations but IS itself. However, if a liberation has been successful, there is state aid available which can be applied for. "We ask you," says Hussein Qaidi as he concludes the conversation, "to try to help us carry out our missions; we need support from all over the world.  Imagine we had one of the liberated women who had been sold thirty times before, I do not need to explain to you any further, how significant that would be. For those people, everything is far worse than for those who have already found a place in the camps. We will not be able to do it alone.”

Hussein Qaidi is looking for the families with us. Khalil speaks with them to establish the most urgent needs and arranges to meet the most necessary of these. We stand silent. It is impossible to comfort here. The suffering from the experiences of the liberated women and children are far too great. Hardly an eye remains dry in this situation. And there she stood, M., who was sitting on the floor in the room, surrounded by her sleeping children. She gets up, walks up to me, and hugs me. I will never forget this moment. Those who need consoling are instead comforting us, as we stand helpless before them.

"The freedom that I mean ...this freedom is far from being a reality for the liberated. They are still locked in the cage of what they experienced. Whether it is possible to leave it again depends also depends on our help, that we must provide to them. This includes far more than covering the needs of daily life.”


Khalil Qasim Bozani and Verena Rösner took part in this conversation.

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