Yazidi refugees escape ISIS and conflict in Iraq to make new home in Wagga

A Yazidi Peshmerga fighter embraces his mother after she and others fled their frontline village to a Kurdish-controlled area. Peshmerga forces carefully screened displaced Iraqis as they arrived, fearing enemy infiltrators and suicide bombers. Kurdish forces, with the aid of massive US-led coalition airstrikes, liberated Sinjar from ISIS extremists, known in Arabic as Daesh, moving the frontline south. Picture: John Moore/Getty Images.

A Yazidi Peshmerga fighter embraces his mother after she and others fled their frontline village to a Kurdish-controlled area. Peshmerga forces carefully screened displaced Iraqis as they arrived, fearing enemy infiltrators and suicide bombers. Kurdish forces, with the aid of massive US-led coalition airstrikes, liberated Sinjar from ISIS extremists, known in Arabic as Daesh, moving the frontline south. Picture: John Moore/Getty Images.

Before six-year-old Nimat Suleyman came to Wagga as a refugee, the little girl would sing a heartbreaking song to her mother in the Turkish refugee camp they called home.

“Maybe they wont return, so I’m sad and my heart is aching, so don’t cry, mother, don’t cry,” the little girl sang.

On August 3, 2014, Islamic State (IS) fighters attacked Sinjar in northwestern Iraq, killing thousands of men and kidnapping thousands of women from a little-known religious group called Yazidis.

After a harrowing two-year journey, 18 Yazidi families have arrived in Wagga as part of Australia’s humanitarian intake from the Syrian conflict. They are but a fraction of the 400,000 Yazidis who have been driven from their homes by religious violence and terrorism.

Veteran international journalist Nastasya Tay came to Wagga with a Kurmanji translator to speak with some of the Yazidis for SBS News and she shared her story with The Daily Advertiser.

“It was interesting to meet these people who are grappling with their situation,” Ms Tay said. “They feel incredibly lucky to be here, but they’re aware their circumstances differ greatly to those left behind.”

Nimat’s father, Khalaf, recounted the journey and said he would never forget what happened.

“Whoever had cars, they left, taking whoever they could, but in my village there were hundreds left behind,” Mr Suleyman said. “We escaped to the mountain, we didn’t have shoes, no water, no food. There wasn’t enough water, the adults didn’t drink, we would fill bottle caps with water and give it to the children.”

One woman told Ms Tay a relative threw herself off the mountain in grief after her newborn baby died. Desperate for survival, the Yazidis fled IS, many walking to Turkey through Syria. Four-year-old Nimat wrapped her feet in bandages after her shoes wore out on the 500-kilometre journey.

The only thing the Suleymans brought with them was a photo album and the memories of what they’d lost.

Coming here, I know there is peace, but my brothers are still there. - Khalaf Suleyman

Mr Suleyman said he was glad his children would have a future.

“Coming here, I know there is peace,” Mr Suleyman said. “But in my mind I know my brothers are still there and lots of Yazidi are still there. I think about them a lot.”

However, Ms Tay said Wagga’s newest residents were determined to learn English and become part of the community.

“Here is nice,” Nimat said. “I love being at school.”

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