DUHOK, IRAQI KURDISTAN, APR 13: The children laugh and shriek, as some of them seem to always have the capacity to do no matter how depressing the circumstances.
Their bright clothes provide splashes of color against the otherwise drab monotone white of the endless rows of tents.
A small group plays with rocks, replacements for the toys they left behind when they fled, while others clamber through a jagged tear in the wire fence surrounding the refugee camp.
The Shariya refugee camp opened around six months ago, made up of some 4,000 tents and counting.
Thousands of Yazidis now call this corner of Iraqi Kurdistan home, about 18 miles (30 kilometers) from one of the front lines with ISIS, where one can hear the occasional reverberation in the distance of what we are told are airstrikes.
Thousands taken captive
The vast majority of the camp’s occupants are from the town of Sinjar, which is near the border with Syrian Kurdistan, and fled the ISIS assault there back in August. But not everyone escaped. ISIS took thousands of Yazidis captive.
The fighters separated the young women and girls, some as young as 8 years old, to be sold as slaves, for their “masters” to use as concubines. Men faced a choice: Convert to Islam or be shot.
Mahmoud was out running errands when ISIS fighters arrived, taking his wife, Ahlam, their three children — the youngest of which was just a month old — and his elderly parents.
“They took our phones, jewelry, money,” Ahlam recalls. “They had guns. They forced us at gunpoint into big trailer trucks.”
They were taken to a school turned prison in Tal Afar. From there, the family was moved from village to village — and at one stage taken to Mosul.
“They wrote everyone’s name down and they asked where we want to work, in the fields, as cleaners or as herders,” she says.
Ahlam and her family chose to herd goats.
They were then taken to a Shia village whose residents had fled, where they were part of a group of around 40 living in one house. In the home, Ahlam found a cell phone left behind by its former occupants and called her husband.
“I said we are alive but we are prisoners.”
Ahlam’s husband, who up until that moment had lost the will to live, thinking his family was dead, says he cried out of happiness despite his pain.
Ahlam would call when she could, briefly, after midnight, hiding under her bedcovers. If she was caught with a phone, she would be killed.