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Coronavirus Prevents Yazidi Teenager Abducted by ISIS From Reuniting with Family

Coronavirus Prevents Yazidi Teenager Abducted by ISIS From Reuniting with Family

Thursday, 7 May, 2020 - 03:00
Layla Eido, a teenager from Iraq's minority Yazidi community, is pictured in the countryside of Syria's northeastern province of Hasakeh on April 23, 2020. AFP

Years after ISIS stole her away to Syria, 17-year-old Layla Eido finally recontacted her family in Iraq several months ago. But a coronavirus lockdown has delayed their long-awaited reunion.

The teenager who comes from Iraq's minority Yazidi community has been stuck in northeast Syria since the so-called "caliphate" of ISIS collapsed last year, ending her captivity.

But just when she was on the cusp of reuniting with her family, the novel coronavirus pandemic forced both Iraq and Syria to close their borders, stalling her return, AFP reported.

"The coronavirus is keeping me from seeing my family," she told AFP inside a home where she is staying near the Syrian city of Hasakeh.

"I am counting the days until I see them again."

Layla was forcibly taken from Sinjar aged just 11 years old, and later married off to a 21-year old Iraqi ISIS fighter from Tal Afar – a man she said treated her like a "proper wife".

She is among dozens of Yazidi women and girls who were abducted by ISIS from their ancestral Iraqi home of Sinjar in 2014, then enslaved, systematically raped, or married off by force to militants.

Many remain missing, despite hopes they would be found after the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces and the US-led coalition declared the ISIS proto-state defeated in March last year.

Layla lived alongside her husband in several of the group's Syria strongholds until he was killed last year in the village of Baghouz near the Iraqi border, where ISIS fighters made their last stand.

Newly widowed, Layla found herself among the hundreds of thousands of people who flooded out of the former ISIS bastion, after months of bombardment.

They were taken to the Kurdish-run Al-Hol camp, now home to thousands of ISIS wives and their children, including many who are still committed to the group's extremist beliefs.

Fearing for her safety, she kept the fact that she was a Yazidi a secret, telling only one person she had met in the destitute settlement – a woman belonging to the same minority.

The militants "used to scare us and tell us the Kurds would kill us if we told them who we really were," said Layla, who later realized this was not true.

When her Yazidi friend from Al-Hol returned to Iraqi Kurdistan last year with help from Kurdish authorities, she managed to track down Layla's family and helped them connect with their long-lost daughter via Facebook.

Layla says she received the first message from her parents five months ago, and now they exchange text messages on a daily basis.

"I speak to my family every day over WhatsApp and we exchange pictures and I get to check up on them," she said.

For around a month, Layla has been staying with a Syrian Yazidi family.

The family head, an official with the Yazidi House organisation, has been helping to organise her reunion with her parents and siblings, who are living in a displacement camp in Iraq's northern Dohuk province.

But it remains to be seen when this repatriation will happen.

"There is nothing we can do," said Ali Kheder, of the Yazidis' Higher Spiritual Council, the group's highest religious body.

"The borders are closed on both sides because of the virus."

"When they reopen, she will return."

Layla told AFP she is desperate to heal her wounds.

"I want to live a better life, without warplanes, without bombardment and war," she stressed.

"I want to go back to my family as soon as possible and start a new life."

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