She has lived in hell on Earth. Now, a peaceful farm in the middle of a vast green plain in far northeast Syria is Nadia Baraka Qassim’s home for now.
Nadia escaped ISIL’s final hold-out in Baghouz in eastern Syria, about a month ago. She was taken as a slave in 2014 as a brutal jihadi force swept aside a de-moralized Iraqi military near Sinjar, the home of most of Iraq’s Yazidi population. Thousands were massacred.
The relief of making it out alive has drained out of Nadia now. Her weary face carries a weight well beyond her years. She is probably in her late 30s. She has lost her home, and so many of those she loved.
Her brother was shot dead in front of her as they tried to flee back then. In captivity, the two eldest of her four children were snatched from her arms. She still does not know where they are.
She does have some cause for hope. Her other two youngsters were enslaved with her but are now back in Iraq having escaped before her. Nadia’s husband is one of the few Yazidis who refused to abandon his home as ISIL attacked. By some miracle, he hid and was never discovered. From a refugee camp, we are told he somehow made contact with Nadia’s and her children’s’ captors and paid a ransom for their release. As soon as she has permission to cross the border from Syria, she hopes to be re-united with them.
Nadia does not mention all the horrors she witnessed in the above interview. They are almost unspeakable. We are told she saw babies beheaded for crying too loudly. Nadia was not herself sexually abused but has recounted how young girls were forced to pleasure returning ISIL fighters. The list of atrocities goes on.
It was Mahmoud Rasho who found Nadia. Rasho takes almost daily visits to al Hol detention camp where many of the tens of thousands of people who have fled ISIL in recent months are initially taken. Most are fighters and their families. Those who are not are often too scared to admit their true identity among their neighbors. Victims are living alongside perpetrators. Access to those camps is becoming increasingly difficult, but Rasho is making progress.
Since thousands of Yazidis were taken nearly five years ago, a few occasionally escaped. Rasho offered up his home, the farm where Nadia now stays, as a haven. With ISIL’s demise, many more are now coming, and Rasho and his wife are working all hours to help in any way they can.
After the almost unimaginable terror these escapees have witnessed, Yazidi House is a welcome haven. But rehabilitating so many deeply traumatized people – many of them just children – will be a mammoth task Rasho cannot do alone. As for re-building Iraq’s shattered Yazidi community, that could take generations.