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For these victims of ISIS, the conflict isn't over

Editor's Note: (Gayle Tzemach Lemmon is an adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. She is the author of "Ashley's War: The Untold Story of a Team of Women Soldiers on the Special Ops Battlefield." The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author; view more opinion articles on CNN. )

(CNN) At the State Department's "ministerial to advance religious freedom" last week, Vice President Mike Pence noted the plight of the Yazidis, an Iraqi community ravaged by ISIS, whose fighters have slaughtered Yazidi men and captured, raped and enslaved Yazidi women.

Gayle Tzemach Lemmon

"Thousands of Yazidis remain missing to this day or in ISIS captivity," Pence said. "The United States of America, I promise you, will always call ISIS brutality what it truly is: It is genocide, plain and simple."

Pence's mention of the thousands who remain missing highlights a key point: the Yazidi crisis is not over. Far from it. And though most of the world, with its donor fatigue and decimated attention span, has long ago moved on, victims of this crisis do not have this luxury. Today they confront grief over the remaining missing, a lack of mental health services for those returning after the trauma of enslavement, mass displacement as homes remain out of reach, and a shortage of economic opportunities which exacerbates all the other ills.

I spoke recently with aid workers in northern Iraq fighting to help the Yazidis who have escaped enslavement. They tell of survivors struggling to navigate the very basics of returning to what once was normal life in their community -- a community now confined to tents for the displaced, visible across the region.

"They are too traumatized to be able to speak," said Zaid Abdulla, Case Management Team Lead with SEED Kurdistan, an organization which provides psychotherapy, counseling and social work services to Yazidis. SEED Kurdistan is working to support survivors who face the unimaginable challenge of restarting their lives after living through hell.

Survivors "also face challenges trying to reconcile with the family, the community to rebuild their lives," Abdulla says. This reconciliation, he says, is complicated by the fact that "they keep getting flashbacks about what happened and they keep remembering loved ones who were lost."

Abdulla keeps his phone close at all times, especially to help those highest-need cases who have returned home. This includes survivors threatening to harm themselves or those facing threats from their families. Those survivors who need protection face danger 24 hours a day.

"Those are the most difficult cases," Abdulla says. "For example, a woman who will come back with a child that was born with an ISIS father. She wants to keep the child, but the family doesn't accept it -- they accept her back but not the child. They want to force her to give up the child, so she runs away."

Right now, there is no real place for this survivor to go if she wants to keep her baby, though SEED hopes to change that in the future. Some of the children born of enslaved Yazidis and their ISIS captors are in orphanages or accepted by local families, aid workers say. But mothers who want to keep the children born of their rape and enslavement have no safe place to go -- and almost no support to help them to process their decision-making.

What organizations can do right now is help survivors come together and get some help through therapy and community.

Along with SEED Kurdistan, survivors also can find mental health support at the two rehabilitation centers run by the Emma Organization for Human Development, which offer art and music therapy for Yazidi survivors, among other tools. Emma's goal is to help survivors manage trauma through therapy and grief ceremonies.

"Most of these women have lost so many people, but they didn't have any time to grieve them," says Emma's co-founder, Dr. Bayan Kader Rasul, a psychiatrist at Erbil Psychiatric Hospital. "It's huge, the need for services."

She notes that the camps Yazidi survivors thought they would call home for one year now feel far from temporary.

"Everyone needs basic shelter and safety and after that you need community-based services. They don't have them," Rasul says.

And, like Abdulla, she notes that those girls and women returning pregnant from ISIS enslavement have no place to turn. She recounts the story of a 15-year-old girl who reached Emma's offices nearly ready to deliver her baby born of rape.

"She said, 'I don't want to see this baby, I don't want to have this baby,'" Rasul told me. Rasul said her medical colleague delivered the baby, a little girl, who immediately went to an adoptive family -- leaving one more teenage survivor of abuse, rape and enslavement who has returned home to an uncertain future.

What is needed to face this continuing crisis is ongoing support: economic investment, mental health support and funds for homes, not tents. Drive by the camps which were set up to help Yazidis three years ago, and you see rows of these tents, which are subject to the whims of nature, including flooding, as happened earlier this year.

The Yazidi crisis isn't over. Helping survivors by funding organizations offering education and economic assistance, housing services and lasting mental health support is what this moment calls for. We must strengthen the Yazidi community so it will not be vulnerable to the next set of horrors.

"If the world really wants to say that we helped the Yazidi people, they should stay for longer and invest in the community," Abdulla says. "Invest in their education and their households — anything that supports them to be stronger."

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