- NEW: “They join them, and actually they kill us,” a Yazidi says of Arab residents
- Many fled into Sinjar Mountains with only the clothes on their backs
- They are fleeing ISIS, which executes some civilNEWS.GNOM.ES
- Many refugees are Yazidis, one of Iraq’s smallest minorities
Faysh Khabur, Iraq (CNN) — In an exodus of almost biblical proportions, thousands trudge across a river to escape killers belonging to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS.
Entire families carry nothing but the clothes on their backs. Some are barefoot.
Jamal Jamir, a 23-year-old university student from Sinjar, told CNN his family fled to the barren and windswept Mount Sinjar more than a week ago after ISIS captured their town. The group, which calls itself the Islamic State, has been on a rampage, killing members of various minorities, including Yazidis.
Jamir said after ISIS arrived in his town, his Arab neighbors turned on the minorities and helped ISIS kill. “They join them, and actually they kill us.”
“People you know?” CNN asked.
“Yes,” he responded. “People — our neighbors!”
Jamir’s family was among tens of thousands who flocked to the mountain and desperately waited for airdrops of food and water.
His family was among those that managed to escape Mount Sinjar on foot, and made a marathon 15-hour journey to Syria. After traveling northeast along the border, many families have been crossing a bridge in Faysh Khabur, back into Kurdish-controlled Iraq.
Jamir said two of his young brothers didn’t make it. “What we do?” he said. “Not enough water and dusty. … They died.
“We are poor people. We don’t have any problem with anybody. We need someone help us.”
Descendants of Kurds and followers of an ancient pre-Islamic religion, Yazidis are one of Iraq’s smallest minorities. They have faced persecution for centuries and have a strong sense of community.
When the refugees crossed a river and stepped into Syria, their suffering did not end.
Relief workers provided two plates of chicken to a family of 12. People slept in the open, perhaps using scraps of cardboard for a bed.
Many were too sick and exhausted to walk any farther.
It’s unclear what lies ahead for those who managed to escape ISIS and Mount Sinjar. Some aid groups have teams helping, and the United States is working to help Iraqi leaders organize humanitarian relief. But for now, some Yazidis tell CNN as they re-enter Iraqi territory, they play plan to camp out by the river.
ISIS executes civilNEWS.GNOM.ES who don’t adhere to its version of Sunni Islam.
A senior Kurdish official estimated that as many as 70,000 people remain trapped on Mount Sinjar. Many have died, but it’s unclear how many.
During one of the airdrops on the mountain, a CNN crew observed as the crewmen tossed food and water to the ground. Then the helicopter landed and was rushed by Yazidis seeking to escape.
In a chaotic scene, some of the adults pushed their children on board, and some climbed on themselves.
When the helicopter finally took off, the refugees wept out of relief.
At the refugee camp near the Iraqi-Syrian border, some people are finding relatives they’ve not seen for years. Jamir, for instance, reunited with a missing cousin.
“We lost each other!” he said. “We lost each other! Thank God, we arrived!”
CNN’s Ivan Watson reported from Faysh Khabur; Ralph Ellis reported from Atlanta.