Thousands of Iraqi Refugees Are Trapped Without Food or Water on Mountains Surrounded by Militia

Delivering help by land or air is impossible, humanitarian aid experts say

A humanitarian crisis is underway in Sinjar, Iraq, and the surrounding towns. Photo: Cheryl Diaz Meyer/Dallas Morning News/Corbis

Extremist Sunni militia have trapped up to 200,000 people on barren mountains surrounding Sinjar, a town in northwest Iraq. The militia took over the region on Sunday, and the situation has been worsening since then. Unable to reach the refugees with supplies, humanitarian aid workers have received word that people—especially children—have already begun to die from dehydration and exposure, Time reports

The militants are part of a fundamentalist group called Islamic State (it's also been referred to in the media as ISIS or ISIL), which seized control of large parts of northwestern and northern Iraq earlier this summer. As Time writes, the group's members are infamous for their "hatred of any group that does not abide by its fundamentalist interpretation of Sunni Islam." Many of the refugees trapped in the mountains belong to a minority group called the Yazidi. They traditionally practice a religion similar to Zoroastrianism, which the Islamic State equates with "devil worship." 

The militia controls the roads, so reaching the refugees by land is not an option. Air drops could deliver water and food, but as Time points out, that would require the help of the Iraqi Air Force. The United Nations has called on the Iraqi government to step up, but as an expert from Amnesty International told Time, “It’s going to take a few more days before things coalesce into a more coordinated response.” 

In the meantime, UNICEF has reported that at least 40 children have died in the mountains, and 25,000 more may succumb to that same fate if help does not arrive.