Nihad was an ISIS sex slave and is desperate for a new life in Australia


London:  This is the face of a woman who has been kidnapped, , raped, given birth and had her baby stolen from her. It is also the face of an asylum seeker: Nihad Barakat Al-Awsi has applied for Australia’s protection, along with her sister, three of her brothers, her nephew, mother and sister-in-law’s family who all survived Islamic State’s attempted genocide of her people – the Yazidis of northern Iraq. 

Three years ago, when she was 15, Nihad had many friends, enjoyed school – especially maths and English – and dreamed of becoming a teacher.

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But the bright young Yazidi woman’s life irrevocably changed one afternoon when a villager from a nearby town sounded the alarm: “ISIS are coming”.

Nihad and her family, she is one of 18 children, had two choices: convert to Islam or flee. Islamic State, also known as ISIS, considers the Yazidis – who believe in a mixture of Christianity, Islam, and the ancient Persian faith Zoroastrianism – to be “devil-worshippers.”

The family packed into cars and headed for Mount Sinjar but were captured at a checkpoint. 

Nihad has sought protection here, because unlike other programs for Yazidi women around the world, including in Germany, Australia is willing to keep her family together.   

In 2017-18, Australia will accept 18,750 people fleeing persecution. In March, the government announced it had granted protection visas to 12,000 people displaced by the conflict in in Syria and Iraq. 

Nihad was one of the 6800 Yazidis now believed to have been captured to become sex slaves or fighters. 

She cannot erase the mental trauma from her time under the control of the Islamic State “monsters”. “Several times I tried to tell my family about my sister who was being raped in front of me and she was screaming at that time, begging for my mother to come to help her.”

“I can’t tell anyone about this,” she says clutching a tissue, her eyes brimming with tears.

After her capture, Nihad was taken to a village on the Iraq-Syria border, where the male captives were separated from the girls and women.

She was then transferred to Mosul, where a fighter claimed her, and raped her repeatedly before his death in the battlefield nearly two months later. She was quickly “purchased” and forced to marry another “monster”, a man named Abu Faris who already had a wife and a Yazidi girl as his slave.

Many Islamic State slaves have died in captivity but Nihad says she clung to the hope of reuniting with her family. “I used to go to see my sisters and my brother [all in captivity] and I said, ‘Please stick to the hope that one day we will be released and we will be return to our lives’.”

Her strength prevailed through the constant rapes and beatings but then she fell pregnant. “I thought I was carrying a small ISIS man,” she says.

“When I got pregnant I thought that I am weak and I am wondering and asking myself, ‘Why did this happen?'”

“I disassociated from the surroundings. I felt ‘I am lost’ but one day I managed to get a phone to call my family and from that moment I clung to the hope again.”

Nihad tried to force a miscarriage, but when her son arrived she named him Issa – Arabic for Jesus. He will turn two in July but she is unlikely to ever see him again. When she escaped she had to leave Issa, then just 3 months old, with the father, the man who bought her. Abu Faris remains in northern Iraq and has insisted on keeping the precious boy.

Even if Nihad had been able to take Issa with her, her people would have rejected her son, she says.  

“He is part of me but he’s something from those criminals and he represents those criminals. Even if I managed to meet him again, my family and all the Yazidi people would say ‘This is a member of ISIS’,” says Nihad.

“I used to carry him and I used to hug him and play with him but I have never forgot my family and I was thinking all the time about returning to my family.”

New research from the London School of Economics has found 9900 Yazidis were killed or kidnapped over the course of just a few days in August 2014. The figure is far higher than previous estimates of Islamic State’s brutal “purification” of northern Iraq. An estimated 3100 Yazidis were killed, with nearly half of them executed by gunshot, beheading or being burned alive. The others died from injuries, starvation and dehydration during the siege on Mount Sinjar. More than one-third of those kidnapped remain missing.  

Nihad escaped her captor because of a dispute between Abu Faris, his wife and his other Yazidi girl. In a bid to resolve the tension, Nihad was passed to Abu Faris’ cousin. From here, with the help of a group helping Yazidi women, she was able to finally escape Mosul.

But although she has escaped Islamic State enslavement, Nihad says she will never feel free.

“Because Yazidi people are still there under the captivity of ISIS and because I still have a son under the captivity of ISIS – I don’t feel that I am free.”

Nihad has lost two sisters and a brother to Islamic State and two more brothers have been forced into training in fighter camps.

Despite the stigma Nihad risks in putting her face to the horrific label of “Islamic State sex-slave,” she is committed to telling the world about what she endured and the ongoing persecution her people face. “I want all the people to imagine the misery that we have passed through.”

The trauma she experienced is so deep, Nihad isn’t sure she will ever fully recover. “Despite all the difficulty that I have suffered, I have decided to continue my life and to be a success but the sadness inside us is so deep.”

But she is hopeful she will be granted a protection visa by the end of the year and embark on a new beginning in Australia.

Nihad’s ambition is to finish her education, which she has already resumed, and return to the goals she set before Islamic State blackened her life. “I would like to go there to continue to work to be a teacher,” she says.

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