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Last updated: January 2021

COI summary

[COI query on Yazidis; COI query on minorities and stateless, 1.1, 1.2.3]

The Yazidis are an ethno-religious community autochthonous to the north Iraq governorate of Ninewa. Their ancestral homeland is located 150 km west of Mosul, in the Ninewa Plains, predominantly concentrated around the Sinjar mountain and the district town of Sinjar, as well as the Al-Shikhan district, the villages of Bahzani and Baashiqa near Mosul, and in Dohuk in Iraqi Kurdistan. The native language of the Yazidis is the Kormanje dialect of Kurdish.

Prior to the invasion of ISIL in 2014, the Yazidi community was estimated to range from 300 000 to between 550 000 and 700 000 members. The population of Yazidis in Sinjar prior to ISIL was estimated at 142 000. The ISIL invasion of Sinjar district is estimated to have resulted in the mass displacement of 360 000 Yazidis, Arab and Christians. As of July 2020, 200 000 Yazidis remained displaced.

The Yazidis identify first by religion and then by ethnicity. Alienated from the religious majority in Iraq, Yazidis were labelled as heretics and devil worshipers. Even before ISIL’s offensive, numerous incidents of arbitrary arrest, discrimination and other abuses against the Yazidi community had been reported. Their religious premise was used by ISIL to perpetrate intentional, targeted mass killings, forced conversion, forced transfers of young children and sexual enslavement of thousands of women and girls. As of August 2020, an estimated 3 000 Yazidis are still missing or thought to be in captivity. The KRG continued efforts to support and fund the rescue of captured Yazidis, inside and outside of the country.

According to UN Human Rights Council, the crimes perpetuated by ISIL against the Yazidis qualify as genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. More than 160 perpetrators of massacres against Yazidis, particularly in Kojo but also elsewhere, were identified, resulting in building of legal cases to be primarily prosecuted by Iraqi domestic courts.

The UN Security Council noted that despite ISIL’s weakened position following their territorial defeat in Iraq and diminished number of active fighters, its reconstitution and resurgence in the former areas of dominance could not yet be ruled out. At the same time, State control is weak or lacking in areas adjacent to the Iraq-Syria borders, allowing ISIL to find the means to survive and restore its capabilities in these areas. Most of the Yazidi population is located in these areas.

Throughout 2019 and 2020, incidents of ISIL attacks in Ninewa governorate and Sinjar district continued occurring. These incidents included suicide bombers as well as rocket, mortar and IED assaults. Moreover, PMU have been involved in extortion, illegal arrests, and kidnappings, targeting, among others, Yazidis returning to the Ninewa Plains and Sinjar. During 2019, some Yazidi leaders reported about physical abuse and verbal harassment by the Peshmerga and Asayish in the KRG-controlled areas of Ninewa. Those were reportedly caused by territorial disagreements rather than motivated by religious discrimination. In Sinjar, numerous armed actors are competing for influence, including ISF, Shia and Yazidi PMU, Yazidi Peshmerga and PKK-affiliated forces. Additionally, Turkey is regularly carrying out operations against PKK strongholds in the area. This situation further complicates the return of IDPs.

The takeover of Mosul, the Ninewa Plains, and Sinjar and Tel Afar districts by ISIL led to a mass exodus and displacement of an estimated 500 000 Yazidis that fled to the KRI, predominantly to Dohuk governorate. Yazidis still residing in the KRI remain disadvantaged by low education, missing documentation, and lack of work experience outside construction and agriculture, in addition to widespread patronage and nepotism. The lack of employment and limited economic resources are resulting in difficulties to access food, health services, shelter and education. According to reports from 2017, Kurdish officials frequently put pressure on Yazidis to identify as Kurds or Muslims, and those who refused risked harassment, detention, or deportation from KRI or were prevented from entering the KRI. However, more recent sources indicated that Yazidis coming from areas outside KRI would have no issues acquiring a residence permit in the region, while one source noted that people who do not identify themselves as Kurdish faced challenges in obtaining a residency card. KRG reportedly allows Yazidis to observe their faith without interference or intimidation.

The main reasons for many Yazidis not to return to their areas of origin are the lack of reconstruction, vital public services and sense of insecurity. ISIL’s systematic and deliberate targeting and destruction of critical infrastructure (i.e. hospitals, power plants, electricity networks, schools, bridges, roads) and household and agricultural infrastructure, combined with the practice of booby-trapping Yazidi residences, and lack of vital services, continued to impede the safe return of IDPs, returnees, rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts. It is also reported that the district of Sinjar continued to suffer from contamination of unexploded ammunition and IEDs deliberately left by ISIL.

Yazidi women that suffered repeated rape were, after giving birth, forced to abandon their children in orphanages in Syria or Iraq to be allowed to re-join the Yazidi community, or were compelled to register their children as Muslim and to convert to Islam themselves in order to obtain identification documents and access to governmental services. Sexual violence against the members of the Yazidi community continues to be underreported owing to the fear of reprisals, stigma, absence of services and ongoing security concerns. Displacement camps constitute sites of heightened risk. Legislative steps have been taken in order to address the issue of female Yazidi survivors and the status of their children born to ISIL fighters, however the relevant draft laws have not yet been voted on. See also the sections on Children born under ISIL who lack civil documentation under the profile Children. Yazidi women continued facing discriminatory stereotypes.

Risk analysis

The acts to which individuals under this profile could be exposed are of such severe nature that they would amount to persecution (e.g. harassment, detention, physical assaults, sexual abuse, killings, extortion, arbitrary arrests, kidnappings). In other cases, individuals could be exposed to (solely) discriminatory measures, and the individual assessment of whether or not discrimination could amount to persecution should take into account the severity and/or repetitiveness of the acts or whether they occur as an accumulation of various measures.

Not all individuals under this profile would face the level of risk required to establish a well-founded fear of persecution. The individual assessment of whether or not there is a reasonable degree of likelihood for the applicant to face persecution should take into account risk-impacting circumstances, such as: area of origin (e.g. Yazidi in areas where ISIL continues to operate), (lack of) identity documents, gender, etc.

Nexus to a reason for persecution

Available information indicates that persecution of this profile is for reasons of religion, race and/or nationality.