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Iraqi women suspected of IS links being sexually exploited and refused aid

An Amnesty International report has expressed concern about how women and children are sexually exploited.

Iraq: Islamic State Conflict - Mosul A family who has escaped in Mosul. Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

IRAQI WOMEN AND children with perceived ties to the so-called Islamic State (IS) are being denied humanitarian aid and prevented from returning to their homes, according to a report by Amnesty International.

It expressed concern about how these women and children are exposed to sexual exploitation as a result.

The report, entitled ‘The Condemned: Women and Children Isolated, Trapped and Exploited’ in Iraq reveals widespread discrimination against women living in camps for internally displaced people (IDPs) by security forces, members of camp administrations and local authorities, because they suspect these women to be connected with IS.

Amnesty International established that sexual exploitation was occurring in each of the eight camps that Amnesty researchers visited.

“The war against IS in Iraq may be over, but the suffering of Iraqis is far from over. Iraqi women and children with perceived ties to IS are being punished for crimes they did not commit,” said Colm O’Gorman, executive director of Amnesty International Ireland.

Cast out of their communities, these families have nowhere and no one to turn to. They are trapped in camps, ostracised and denied food, water and other essentials.

Iraq: Islamic State Conflict - Mosul Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

This humiliating collective punishment risks laying the foundation for future violence. It is no way to build the just and sustainable peace that Iraqis so desperately desire and need.

The report details the plight of thousands of female-headed families who have been left to fend for themselves in IDP camps after male family members were killed, or arbitrarily arrested and forcibly disappeared while fleeing IS-held areas in and around Mosul.

In many cases, the men’s only “crime” was escaping an IS stronghold, having similar names to those on questionable “wanted lists” or working in non-combat roles with IS as cooks or drivers.

Isolated and sexually exploited

The research shows that women and children in IDP camps across Iraq are denied food and health care as a result of their perceived ties to IS.

These families are also routinely blocked from obtaining identity cards and other documents needed to work and move freely. In at least one camp, families suspected of links to IS are forbidden to leave what has become a de facto detention centre.

Iraq: The Kakai Kurds are returning to their homes Source: PA Images

Desperate and isolated, the women are at heightened risk of sexual exploitation by security forces, armed guards and members of militias working in and near the camps.

In each of the eight camps Amnesty International visited, women were being coerced and pressured into entering sexual relationships in exchange for desperately needed cash, humanitarian aid and protection from other men.

These women are also at risk of rape. Four women told Amnesty International they had either witnessed rape directly or heard the screams of a woman in a nearby tent who was being raped by armed men, members of the camp administration or other camp residents.

‘Dana’, a 20-year-old woman, told Amnesty International she had survived several rape attempts and faced relentless pressure to have sex with a member of the security forces in her camp.

“Because they consider me the same as an IS fighter, they will rape me and return me back. They want to show everyone what they can do to me – to take away my honour,” she said.

I can’t feel comfortable in my tent. I just want a door to lock and walls around me… Each night, I say to myself, ‘Tonight is the night I’m going to die.’

Many of the women that Amnesty interviewed in IDP camps expressed fear for their safety.

“Women are being subjected to dehumanising and discriminatory treatment by armed men operating in the camps for their alleged affiliation with IS. The very people who are supposed to be protecting them are turning into predators,” said Colm O’Gorman.

“The Iraqi government must show it is serious about ending the violations against these women by holding all perpetrators to account and stopping all armed men from entering IDP camps.”

Nowhere to turn

In several areas, local and tribal authorities have issued orders that block the return of women and children with perceived ties to IS, leaving them trapped in the IDP camps.

Iraq: Islamic State Conflict - Mosul A soldier of the Iraqi army on a house roof at the front line in the embattled district of Bark, south-eastern Mosul. Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

Those who have made it home have faced evictions, forced displacement, looting, threats and abuse, including sexual abuse and sexual harassment. In some instances, their houses have been marked ‘Daeshi’ (the Arabic term for IS) and destroyed or they have had their electricity, water and other services cut off.

‘Maha’ described to Amnesty International the despair she felt at facing such discrimination.

“Sometimes I ask myself: why didn’t I just die in an airstrike? I attempted to commit suicide but I didn’t follow through. I put kerosene on myself, but before I lit it on fire, I thought of my son,” she said.

I feel I am at my end. I am in a prison here. I am completely alone – without my husband, my father – no one is with me anymore.

The situation for women like ‘Maha’ is likely to get even worse as international funding for the humanitarian crisis in Iraq is projected to sharply decrease.

In advance of Iraq’s parliamentary elections in May, displaced people are being urged to leave IDP camps as the government’s focus turns to closing and consolidating them.

“The Iraqi authorities must ensure that families in IDP camps with perceived ties to IS are given equal access to humanitarian aid, health care and civil documents. These families must be allowed to return home without fear of intimidation, arrest or attacks,” said O’Gorman.

Iraq: Islamic State Conflict - Mosul Men and boys queue up in Hay Samah on the eastern outskirts of Iraq, after the rumour that food is to be brought here (December 2016). Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

The authorities must also immediately end the systematic and widespread practice of forcibly disappearing men and boys with perceived ties to IS that has left thousands of wives, mothers, daughters and sons in desperate situations.

The Amnesty report was based on interviews with 92 women in eight IDP camps in Ninewa and Salah al-Din governorates. Researchers also interviewed 30 local and international NGO workers, 11 members of camp administrations and nine current and former UN officials.

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