One man’s mission to free Yazidi women from ISIS

In August, 2014, militants of the Islamic State began a campaign of mass abductions of Yazidi women and girls—a religious minority in Northern Iraq—as part of the radical group’s introduction of systematic sexual slavery.

ISIS justified their actions through a statement published online several months later:

One should remember that enslaving the families of the kuffar—the infidels—and taking their women as concubines is a firmly established aspect of the Shariah, or Islamic law.”

The Yazidi faith borrows elements of Christianity, Islam, and ancient traditions like Zoroastrianism. ISIS considers them devil worshipers unbelievers, worse than Christians and Jews who have some protection as “People of the Book” in the Quran.

In 2014 alone, over 5,000 women were abducted to be traded and sold. And just last week, a U.N. report said approximately 3,500 are currently being held captive by the Islamic State militants as slaves in Iraq. Most of those being held are Yazidi women and children.

Since the raids on Yazidis began, local, underground smugglers in Iraq have launched rescue missions to bring their women home. Outside of Iraq, Steve Maman, a Jewish Canadian businessman, is collecting online donations to fund more liberations.

Maman is founder of the charity CYCI, The Liberation of Christian and Yazidi Children of Iraq, which works with brokers to negotiate releases. But Maman’s actions have been met with skepticism in the international community. Critics cite a lack of transparency about how rescue operations are carried out and question the organization’s methods.

A team of independent filmmakers who volunteered their services to CYCI went to Iraq to find out how the organization is rescuing women. Maman discusses his reasons for getting involved in the conflict and the details of his missions, while survivors open up about choosing between death or conversion to Islam, rape, and enslavement at the hands of ISIS. The filmmakers met with an underground broker and witnessed the liberation of a 16-year-old girl in Iraq that was funded by CYCI.

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