Five years ago, Majhor Abbdullah Hagi witnessed the slaughter of thousands of his fellow Yezidi people at the hands of Isis. Now in the UK, he is fighting for the right to a new life, free from persecution.
By: The Guardian
“I’m really frustrated with the government for its lack of support to me as a survivor of genocide, but at the same time so grateful to the British people for their kindness,” says Majhor Abbdullah Hagi, an asylum-seeker in the UK.
As a member of the Yezidi religious minority, Majhor survived the genocide (recognized as such by the United Nations) that unfolded in his place of origin, Shingal in northern Iraq. His current situation is uncertain as he faces possible deportation back to Iraq. In the meantime, Majhor is not eligible for housing or other government support, and is unable to work or study.
He has been living in Penzance, Cornwall for the last year. The Home Office has rejected his asylum claim and he is technically homeless, though he has so far survived through the support of a local activist. When I met him recently, Majhor recalled both the experience of genocide in Iraq and his asylum struggle in the UK.
One night in 2014, Isis attacked the area around Shingal and slaughtered 6,000 Yezidis, who the militant group considered infidels. The group kidnapped their children, seeking to indoctrinate them and force the women into service as sex slaves. “It was a massive panic and everybody was shouting, and it was like gunfire everywhere and a lot of kids, disabled people, old people,” Majhor says, as he recalls the events when Isis attacked his city. “They separated women and children from the men, and they took the men to a different area where they killed them and put them in mass graves. Then they separated the women from their kids, [who they] used as future soldiers for Isis.”
In the five years since then, only half of those held by Isis have managed to escape, sometimes with the support of the Kurdish regional government in Iraq and the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Syria. More than 75 mass graves have been found in Shingal and its surrounding villages. The fate of the others remains largely unknown.
The Yezidis have been subjected to as many as 74 massacres over the centuries simply because of their religion. The ideology of those around them puts them at extreme risk of another genocide. Majhor says that the Yezidi people “never harm anyone because we are not allowed, even if your enemy is attacking you and treating you badly. If you have a chance you have to treat them nicely.” For him humanity should come before everything else.
Majhor lost his family, relatives and friends during the Isis attack. Like many other survivors he stayed in a camp for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Iraqi Kurdistan. Due to the poor living conditions and the persistent sense of insecurity, he left Iraq and crossed the Turkish border with the help of smugglers. After a dangerous journey to Europe, he joined thousands of other refugees in the informal refugee site at Calais known then as the “jungle”.
For around 2 months, Majhor stayed in Calais, where “it was very difficult to live as Yezidis. [The jungle] was divided into different groups – Kurds, Turks, Afghans, Arab – and the majority were Muslim.” He describes how on one occasion he and his Yezidi friend were attacked by 50 camp inhabitants for not attending the mosque for prayer. “After establishing that we were Yezidi by asking us questions about Islam, they put us in a caravan and beat us really badly. Then a big fire broke out. Thankfully the police and army were there, but these people told us they would return later to kill us.”
After the group left them alone, they broke the door and escaped through the back of the camp. Then he made it to the UK, in a lorry, inside a small storage box, which he says could only have comfortably fit a child. He emptied it, got in and taped it again from the inside. “I still have pain in my knee and my shoulder,” he says. A
fter 16 hours in the lorry Majhor made it to the UK, where he has been ever since November 2016.
Majhor thought that once he reached the UK, as a survivor of a genocide, he would be treated well. He hoped that the Home Office would quickly grant him asylum and look after him. But instead he was interviewed for up to 7 hours, asked many questions about the events during the genocide, his religion, the situation in Iraq, how he got to the UK; “many questions about everything”.