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Yazidi Refugees' Fear Still Raw and Fate Unclear in Iraq

Image: A displaced woman from the minority Yazidi sect, fleeing violence in Iraq, looks out from an abandoned house where she is taking refuge in the southeastern Turkish town of Silopi

A displaced woman from the minority Yazidi sect, fleeing violence in Iraq, looks out from an abandoned house where she is taking refuge in the southeastern Turkish town of Silopi, near the Turkish-Iraqi border crossing of Habur, on Aug. 13. Thousands of Iraqis, most of them ethnic minority Yazidis, have fled to the Turkish border to escape an advance by Islamic State fighters in northern Iraq. Kadir Baris / Reuters

They escaped the militant group ISIS and survived hunger and thirst on a mountain. Now they have made their way to the safety of Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq, but their fate remains uncertain and their fear raw.

Hundreds of refugees demonstrated on Wednesday in the barren countryside to ask for more supplies and better care. Hardly anyone was there to listen.

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The refugees — mainly members of the Yazidi religious minority, but some probably also Christian and Muslim — blocked a road, the main path to Iraq’s borders with Turkey and Syria, by setting trash on fire and marching.

Some of them threw stones at cars that would not turn around. They also held posters: “Save Yazidi children from genocide,” one said. Another said, “We cannot stay in Iraq.”

The refugees escaped the Sinjar Mountains of Iraq, where ISIS militants trapped tens of thousands of them without food and water, and threatened to kill them if they descended the mountain.

Thousands, like these demonstrators, walked in 120-degree temperatures across the mountains into Syria, then rode in the backs of trucks to try to reach the nearest border crossing and get back into the safety of northern Iraq, according to Doctors Without Borders.

The United States has dropped food and water and carried out airstrikes against ISIS to try to break the siege.

At the demonstration in northern Iraq, the Yazidis forced some trucks and cars to turn back. After an hour, they left the road and headed for makeshift homes. Many live in roadside tents built with cloth and carpets, tied to their cars if they still have them.

Some have found spots in a camp built for refugees of the Syrian civil war, and others hope to move in. Across the road, heavy machinery is converting a harvested wheat field into the next tent city. Dust swirls high into the air as bulldozers break the dry ground and as the Yazidi wait for shelter.

The Pentagon said in a statement Wednesday that the U.S. concluded that there were fewer Yazidi on the mountain than was previously feared, and that that an evacuation mission is far less likely."