The Stories of Refugees, Migrants, Asylum Seekers, and Other Displaced Persons: Series 1
By Tasmi Imlak
To those who have had to leave all they have ever known, may you find your home away from home. Perhaps one day, borders will be seen for what they truly are: imaginary lines that separate people who have more in common than they have differences.
“Refugees are mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, children, with the same hopes and ambitions as us -- except that a twist of fate has bound their lives to a global refugee crisis on an unprecedented scale.”
-- Khaled Hosseini
Table of Contents
Afghanistan’s Refugee Crisis 6
Stories from Afghanistan 7
The Uyghur Refugee Crisis 12
A Story from Xinjiang 13
The Yazidi and Kurdish Refugee Crisis 18
Stories from Kurdistan 19
Every minute, 20-30 people leave the place they have always called home in order to escape war, persecution, or violence. There are many kinds of people who are forced to leave their homes and countries, including refugees, asylum seekers, and internally displaced persons.
A refugee is someone who has left their country due to destructive forces such as conflict and oppression. An asylum seeker is someone who has left their country and applied for safety in another. Internally displaced persons have fled their home but are still within the borders of their country of citizenship.
Today, the refugee crisis and the number of displaced persons around the world is more than it has ever been. According to the UNHCR, there are about 70 million displaced persons and the number will only continue to increase as violence prevails . Two-thirds of refugees in the world are from Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Myanmar, and Somalia . Along with refugees, there are forgotten stories of asylum seekers, migrants, and other displaced persons from all over who are often overlooked.
The goal of this publication is to share the stories of people from underrepresented backgrounds who would like to raise awareness for either their own displacement or their family’s. It is important to learn about the various forces and humanitarian crises that have occurred or continue to occur and the way in which they affect individuals and their families. In the case of those who have resettled after displacement, individuals have experienced various kinds of trauma including war, violence, rape, torture and the loss of loved ones. This publication also aims to shed light on the mental health issues that displaced people face post-resettlement and the greater need for mental health attention. Many assume that as soon as those seeking asylum escape from the initial sources of trauma, they will be resettle with more ease, however, this is not the case. Resettled refugees struggle to adjust to the culture, have difficulty finding work, have family problems, may be subject to discrimination, and experience many other difficulties that arise with moving to a new country.
This will be a continued series that aims to share the history and stories of displacement that have occurred all over the world over different periods of time. If you wish to contribute to this ongoing project by sharing your own or your family’s story of displacement due to war, persecution, or violence, please email me at email@example.com.
Afghanistan’s Refugee Crisis
The second largest refugee population is from Afghanistan, with a total of almost 2.7 million documented refugees and many more who are undocumented . The large scale displacement of the Afghan people began in 1979 when the Soviet Union sent their troops into Afghanistan. This initiated war in Afghanistan for the next nine years, following countrywide conflict and destruction that continues till this day .
After the tragic September 11 attacks in 2001, the then President, George Bush, pursued a ‘war on terror’ and overthrew the Taliban with the help of thousands of American soldiers. Around 2003, US forces began invading Iraq, which gave the Taliban the opportunity to regroup along with other armed groups in the region. By the middle of 2008, Bush sent an additional 48,500 troops to dismantle the Taliban. By 2009, the number of US troops rose to 100,000 as newly elected President Obama at the time had promised to put an end to the war in both Iraq and Afghanistan . Since then, there has been continuous US intervention and violence in Afghanistan that has affected the lives of civilians and their families. In 2019, it has been reported by the United Nations that American forces have killed more civilians than the Taliban itself. According to the reports, US forces are responsible for the death of 581 civilians and 1,192 wounded civilians . There has been nonstop brutality between US troops, the Afghan government, and the Taliban which led to the persecution of many.
Along with years of violent US intervention and bombing, the Taliban has played a significant role in the displacement of Afghans by instilling fear within people and causing violence within the country. The goal of the Taliban is to rid of all foreign intervention, usurp control of the government, and covert the nation into an Islamic State ruled by sharia, or Islamic law. For years, many have fled Afghanistan through extremely dangerous conditions such as risking drowning at sea or even suffocating in the back of a truck . Afghans have been fleeing the country as refugees, migrants, and asylum seekers in order to escape the violence, threats, and persecution of both US troops and the Taliban. As long as the conflict-driven displacement occurs, the refugee crisis in Afghanistan will only continue to intensify.
Stories from Afghanistan
An Afghan political refugee and the President of the Afghanistan Blind Women and Children Foundation
Originally from Kabul, Afghanistan, Nooria came to the US as a political refugee in 1991. Her father was working with UNICEF at a time when there was constant fighting between the Soviets and different warlords, which included the Taliban. UNICEF sponsored her father, her mother, brother, niece, and grandmother. She was 29 years old at the time and had two kids that did not join her in the US until five years after she had left. The story that Nooria chose to share is post-displacement as a particular instance has had a significant impact on her life.
(Nooria’s life prior to displacement)
"We can share how I lost my eyesight. It's odd that I left my country with uncertainty, hoping to travel to the US for safety. I wasn't aware that I would violently lose my sight in this country. You never know what God has in store for you. On May 7th, 1997, I was on my way to my ESL classes in Brooklyn - on 34th and 6th avenue. I was attacked by a mentally disturbed teenager. I think she was hallucinating and mistook me for someone else because she attacked me for no reason. I had just put my foot on the stairs and she pulled me back and I fell on the platform. After jumping on me and sitting on my chest, she blocked my hands and legs and started punching my face and kept saying, 'You want it, you got it.’ When the train conductor saw, he pulled the woman into the train and asked me if I was ok. I was wheezing a lot since I was really nervous. I guess he thought I said I was ok or thought I said I was fine but I was having trouble speaking. Then, he left me at the station. I started seeing everything blurry but thought, ‘Okay, maybe I’m just nervous.’ I still went to class and my teacher told me to use an ice pack. I still remember there was no ice pack so I got an iced coffee and put that on my eyes and went home.
I'll never forget when I woke up the next day I couldn't see anything. I thought it was still night time. I turned on the light next to me and didn't notice anything either. I started thinking maybe something was wrong, so I put my hand on the bulb and felt that it was warm. I knew something was wrong and started screaming. My sister and my kids ran to me and took me to the doctor. They told me it was too late as the nerves in the retina were completely destroyed.
After 5 unsuccessful operations, to try and remove an infection from my eyes, I asked the doctor in his honest opinion, if I would ever get my vision back. He said ‘no.’ In 2003, I decided not to bother with the pain anymore and had my eyes removed. The same November, I also did my first marathon.
I wanted to share this story because I know life is a matter of choice. I had two choices. I could hold my knees and cry and feel sorry and make everyone else's life miserable by crying. The other option was to accept my disability and continue with life. I'm grateful God gave me the courage to choose the 2nd option, and it has motivated me to do so much good. When I had my vision, I tried hard to please other people and never focused on myself. I've grown with my disability.”
(Nooria and her family prior to displacement)
Nooria has also discussed the impact her displacement had on her mental health but continues to talk about her losing her vision. She feels that this instance had a much bigger impact on her mental health than her actual physical displacement.
"Losing a part of your anatomy is obviously difficult and you have to adjust. I went through all the stages of grief and was desperate and scared. I felt like I'd fall into a black hole when I was walking. I was always screaming because I was scared of walking. My family is wonderful and gave me a lot of support, including help from different organizations. A big help came from the Commission for the Blind, who taught me to use a cane and gave me a service dog. I also got therapy and social services to help me with my self-esteem and self-confidence. Therapy is not about telling you what you need to do, but to teach you the tools on how to make a decision in your life. The actual displacement was not bad for me because I had most of my family, and I was comfortable in my heart since we were together. After my son and daughter joined me after 5 years. I am a determined person and a fighter."
Nooria concludes her thoughts on displacement as well as expresses her hopes for her future and family.
"Stop fighting. Why do we hate each other so strongly and go to violence? Why not be human? How long are the people of Afghanistan going to fight? We've been fighting for so long, isn't it enough? Especially for women - how many mothers go through burying their children?”
"[I wish for] peace and prosperity. Happiness and whatever God is willing to give to all humans, please provide it to us as well. Whatever God has in store."
An Afghan refugee and independent makeup artist located in Virginia
Born in Kabul, Afghanistan to a father who was a General in the Afghan military and to an aunt who was a political activist and TV news reporter for Ariana Television Network, Fatana and her family were targeted by the Taliban. When her mother was pregnant with her, her families’ houses were bombed, forcing the family into homelessness. With the help of her aunt’s connections within Ariana Television Network, her family was able to get out of harm’s way by fleeing to Pakistan shortly after her birth. The Taliban continued to follow (the family), forcing them to flee to Europe. In 1999, she was finally able to come to the US as a refugee along with 14 of her relatives through a government program. She currently lives in Northern Virginia with her parents and two brothers.
(Fatana’s mother, father, and older brother in Afghanistan prior to displacement)
More than a specific story, Fatana wants to emphasize the struggles that her family endured, ensuring that she and her siblings have a future to look forward to.
“I think the most powerful narrative that I have is that my parents were literally on the run; my parents, my cousins, my aunts, all of them, including my brother when he was about 4 years old and my other brother when he was only a year old. They were fleeing, for a whole year, they were all just on the run. We don’t have any memoirs from Afghanistan. We don’t have any evidence because all of it got burned down in our home when it got bombed. My mom would tell me how we would flee to her mom’s house and then her house got bombed. So, everywhere we would go, the Taliban would just find us, so we had to flee the country. Eventually, we just had to flee the whole continent.”
(Fatana and her family post-settlement in Northern Virginia)
(Fatana with her two older brothers post-settlement in Northern Virginia)
Fatana expresses her sadness for the state of her country while also expressing relief and hope for her own family and future.
“It sucks because it’s governments as strong as the United States that contribute to such a big problem that [Afghans are] dealing with even today. There are always other countries in the crossfire, like Afghanistan, and I wish I could say Afghanistan can fix this problem but they wouldn’t be able to fix this problem on their own and that’s just something we will always have to deal with.”
“I’m just so happy I’m not in harm’s way and that my family’s not in harm’s way. What I wish for myself is to be able to create a life that my parents never expected that they ever could. Their whole life, they were just trying to survive so I can’t wait to give them all the luxuries and amenities where they can just relax and not have to worry about anything like ‘surviving’ again.”
The Uyghur Refugee Crisis
The Uyghurs are an ethnic group within Western China’s Xinjiang region. There are about 11 million living in that region, the majority being Muslim. Within Xinjiang reside other persecuted Muslim populations as well, such as the Kazakhs, Uzbeks, Tajiks, Kyrgyz, and Hui. Xinjiang is its own autonomous region, however, in recent decades, Han Chinese have been migrating to this region and threatening the Uyghurs’ religious and cultural beliefs .
There have been reports of China establishing Muslim internment camps in this autonomous region. China refers to the detention centers that resemble camps as ‘vocational training centers,’ reputable investigations have revealed that these detention centers are committing human rights violations. The people in the camps are being forced fed pork and alcohol, which are both against Islam, and being told to either criticize or renounce their faith in other ways as well. They are also being forced to learn Mandarin Chinese rather than their native Uyghur language. There have also been reports of many deaths in custody . Various forms of media are banned from Xinjiang making it incredibly difficult for news outlets to raise awareness on the atrocities that are taking place in the region against Muslims. Through the creation of such camps, it has been argued that China’s government is executing a form of both ethnic and religious cleansing. The Uyghur crisis is in dire need of awareness as it is not known about globally.
(A: Map of China with Xinjiang Uyghur region highlighted)
(B: Map of Xinjiang Uyghur region)
A Story from Xinjiang
An Uyghur political asylee and Government and Legal Studies Student at Bowdoin College
Born in Japan to an Uyghur mother who was raised to be a Chinese loyalist and an Uyghur father who is an activist for Uyghur independence, Aoguzi shares his story. Aoguzi was granted political asylum in the US in 2010. He had come to the US with his mother and sister, although they were later deported back to China due to their mental health issues in 2013. This forced him to essentially raise himself at only 12 years old. He lived under the foster care system for 8 years and is finally free from it. Currently, he lives in Medford, Massachusetts and he will be attending Bowdoin College on a full scholarship this upcoming fall.
(Aoguzi in his senior year portrait)
“My father’s parents were tortured to death when my dad was 10 years old due to oppression from the Chinese government. During the Chinese Cultural Revolution, Mao Zedong sent millions of students around the country to destroy anti-communist ideas out there. Being Muslim meant that you were worshipping something other than the government, so it made Uyghurs a target. My father was an orphan raised by his aunt, so at an early age, he experienced oppression from the Chinese government, whereas my mother was fortunate because her parents decided that it was better to be loyal to the Chinese government and do as they say. My grandfather, on my mom’s side, took up government-based jobs and my mother taught for the government and taught communist ideals. I have a divided family because my father hates the Chinese government. He has devoted his life to making sure Uyghur gained independence one day. He cannot go to Uyghur or he would be arrested immediately for “treason.” My mother, on the other hand, loves the Chinese government.
The reason for my family’s displacement was because of the systematic oppression in China. My father was becoming more and more political; fighting against the Chinese government and trying to free his people and gain independence. My father, after earning a Bachelor's degree in field engineering, took my mother to Japan and began his political career. My father right now is an independence fighter. He is part of the World Uyghur Congress and he advocates for Uyghur independence. He has been doing this for decades. Even [in Japan,] it was unsafe because the thing about Japan is that it’s a very homogeneous country, so they do not like foreigners. Their laws are formed around the fact that they want everyone to be Japanese. They do not provide citizenship unless you are actually Japanese. I was born in Japan but [still] I was not given citizenship. At this time, we were still Chinese citizens, which was dangerous in a sense and made it hard to live in Japan because it does not provide upward mobility for immigrants. My mom brought me and my sister to America where we had a pathway for protection from a foreign power like China. We came here and applied for political asylum. My father decided to stay in Japan because he had already built his career there.
My mother developed paranoid schizophrenia. I don’t know when she developed it because childhood memories are not very clear to me. All I remember is that she has paranoid schizophrenia and she also developed bipolar disorder but she refused to take any medicine. My sister had mental problems as well because she was severely bullied in Japan. She was a very smart student and she had won a National Japanese essay contest with winning scholarship money and a trip to NYC from Japan. After that, people did not like how successful she was getting because she was a foreigner and it made no sense [to them] for a foreign student to receive a national award instead of a Japanese student, thus she was bullied to the point where she suffered from mental issues.”
(The last time Aoguzi was with his whole family)
Aoguzi wants to inform readers with more information about the current situation in Xinjiang. Much of what is happening is being suppressed from reaching mainstream media.
“I have no blood family in America, my blood family lives in Uyghur - every single one of them. Two years ago, China began to ramp up its systematic oppression by a lot more. They became so much more strict. First, they began placing surveillance cameras everywhere around Xinjiang. Then they began collecting DNA samples, input facial recognition technology and began tracking every Uyghur citizen like this was 1984, the novel. Then, they started setting up these “reeducation camps.” They are basically these camps where they arrest and detain Uyghur residents and are forcefully assimilated into Chinese culture. The reason why they are doing this is that China is finally recognizing that the only way to suppress Uyghur nationalism, which is their ultimate goal because they are tired of all the riots and protests that the Uyghurs have imposed on the Chinese government, is by getting rid of their [pride] and their religion.
In these camps, they force-feed Uyghurs alcohol and pork. During Ramadan, they are force-fed as Muslims are not meant to eat from sunset to sundown. Instead of praying, they are forced to recite things such as the Chinese constitution. In some cases, people have been tortured to make them give up information about others. There have also been cases of young Uyghur girls being forcibly married into Chinese families. They are basically trying to strip Uyghurs of their identities at all costs in order to fully assimilate them into China.
Another reason why this is happening now is because of the Silk Road Initiative which is the Chinese initiative to become a world trade power. They are creating a trade route straight through Xinjiang. It is very important that Xinjiang is a peaceful place because it will encourage other countries to go through the region to trade. To ensure this occurs, China is trying to suppress the Uyghurs from protesting and revolting at all costs.”
Aoguzi continues to talk about the current plight of the Uyghurs by highlighting how he has not heard from his mother and sister back home in so long.
“I have lost contact with my mother and my sister since last April so it has been almost over a year. After they got deported in 2013, when I was about 13 years old, I would call them at least once a month and talk to them through Skype but last year, they started cutting the calls off. Right now, I have no idea where they are, I don’t even know if they are even alive, I don’t know if anyone in my blood family other than my father, is alive. My father is safe in Japan but my entire family, they are currently under systematic oppression in Uyghur. Some of them might be in the concentration camps, as I like to call them, and I believe everyone is being hurt there because over 3 million Uyghurs have been sent to [these camps.] People are sent there for such minor reasons such as having contact with people overseas so they might be storing my mom in one of those camps just for having a son in America. It is also dangerous for me to make this public and talk to you about this because there have been stories of Uyghur people here whose families were treated worse because they spoke out here in America. I honestly do not wish that upon my family at all but I know this is the right thing to do.”
He previously mentioned how displacement negatively affected his mother and sister’s mental health. Now, he discusses the effect his displacement had on his own.
“I basically had to raise myself for the past 8 years. My father is in Japan, my mother and my sister are in China, so it is just me and a foster family. A foster family is different because it’s weird being placed into a home when you’ve already spent most of your childhood with your actual family. You don’t create that special bond that perhaps children might when they’re placed [in a foster home] at a younger age. It feels like I am living with a host family. Most of the time, I’m taking care of myself. I got a job, I paid and bought my own car, I buy my own clothes, everything, I’m very self-sustained. I am very independent and I had to be. I had to grow up very fast because I realized that I am by myself so if I want to be successful and if I want to reach the goals that I have set for myself, then I need to take my life seriously and grind hard in school and everything I do. I do have posttraumatic stress disorder, I do suffer from that. There is also a chance that I will develop schizophrenia.”
Aoguzi wishes that both the Chinese and US government treated him and his family better.
“The original terms in which Xinjiang was handed over to China must be restored because at that time, it was its own autonomous region. It was separate from China; you did not see much influence from the Chinese government in Xinjiang in earlier times so I wish the government would go back to that and loosen their grip on Xinjiang and the Uyghurs. Uyghurs would not have to protest if the government provided them with greater leniency and stopped trying to control them.
For the US, I wish the government treated refugees and asylees like they were people. I say this to my friends every day, if Trump had been President when I came here, I probably would not have been granted political asylum. He is trying to shut the whole program down at this point. People need asylum and asylum seekers will contribute to the country as much as anyone else. I am living proof of that. I hate how people view refugees as this possible threat. Everyone talks about refugees as if there is a possible threat of extremism which does not apply to 99% of people. I feel like people need to be much more exposed to refugees.”
Aoguzi voices his continued concern for the wellbeing of his family back home in Xinjiang but he is also hopeful for creating a future that was worth fighting for.
“First, I hope my family is alive. I have no idea if they are but I pray to God that they are safe and doing okay. For my future, I am forever grateful for my mother for making that sacrifice and bringing us to the US. That is the single greatest decision that has impacted my life in such great ways. Sure, there were great costs, like losing my mother and losing my sister and gaining all these mental health issues, but in the end, the benefits greatly outweigh the loss. Now I am able to set and create a family of my own to prosper in the US and that is just something so beautiful and I am forever grateful for that.”
(Aoguzi’s sister and mother)
The Yazidi and Kurdish Refugee Crisis
The Yazidi Genocide
Yazidis are a monotheistic group of people who believe in a peacock angel. Since the time of the Ottoman Empire, the Yazidis have been a target for violence and hate by Muslims in the region due to their differences in religion. Although there have always been attacks on the Yazidis, on August 3, 2014, the Islamic State organized attacks across the Sinjar region of the autonomous region of Kurdistan. In these few days, ISIL carried out what is recognized by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, as a genocide. Approximately 12,000 Yazidis were killed or abducted by ISIL. Young women and girls were raped and taken in to be used as sex slaves. Young boys were taken in to be used as soldiers and be converted to Islam. Older boys and men who refused to convert were horribly killed .
ISIL's actions against the Yazidi population have resulted in approximately 500,000 refugees and several thousand killed and kidnapped . Many Yazidis fled to the bordering Mount Sinjar where hundreds of children, the elderly, and persons with disabilities died due to starvation, dehydration, heat, and lack of medical care. About 50,000 Yazidis hiding in Mount Sinjar were rescued by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and People’s Protection Unit (YPG) fighters . Today, around 360,000 Yazidis live in camps located in Turkey, Iraqi Kurdistan, and Syrian Kurdistan while others have resettled in countries such as Germany, Sweden, and Georgia .
The Kurdish Refugee Crisis
The Kurdish people are one of the largest stateless people in the world. Historically, the Kurds have always been a nomadic group but the majority have settled in what is known as Kurdistan, a non-governmental region across Iran, Iraq, Turkey, and Syria. It is, however, recognized as an autonomous region by Iraq which refers to the region as Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), or Iraqi Kurdistan. It is also recognized by Iran as its own province known as Kordestan .
There are many reasons for the displacement of Kurdish people. For one, they are not recognized by many Middle Eastern countries, which leads to a lack of representation and systematic oppression in the countries of their residence. There also tends to be a conflict between countries’ armed forces and the Kurdish people in their fight for independence which further leads to their displacement. It was reported in 2018 that more than 180,000 Kurds have been displaced from KRG in Iraq . After a Kurdish vote towards independence from Iraq, Iraqi forces captured Kurdish territories such as Kirkuk City, leading to the displacement of thousands as they fled violence.
Stories from Kurdistan
Kurdish-American student at Boston College, an activist for empowering religious and ethnic minorities in the Middle East, and assistant to a Brooklyn-based photographer and filmmaker
Born in Dallas, Texas to Kurdish refugee parents, Narîn shares her family’s story. Her parents fled due to an ethnic cleansing campaign perpetrated by Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Her parents, along with other Kurds, were divided up into different countries in order to be safer, however, these countries failed to provide them with basic human rights as well. She is currently enrolled at Boston College on scholarship and has her own apartment there.
(Naren with some of her family)
“I’ll share with you the story of my parents. During Saddam’s ruling in Iraq in the 80s, he dropped chemical mustard gas on my dad’s village in 1989. It’s called the Halabja Massacre and it was a genocide. My father had to flee and my grandfather was blinded by mustard gas because he was walking to the market that day to buy watermelons when the gas fell onto him. I remember him telling it to me and just like every other survivor of Halabja, the smell was distinct - it was the smell of sweet green apples. It was deceptive because realistically it was gas that was used to exterminate them. In addition to this, the Anfal campaigns consisted of various torturous methods. I know families that were also buried alive in mass graves.
Another horrifying story that my mom told me was that when her friends were in university, Saddam and his sons, his two sons, would sit on the campus to choose which girls they’d want to take home that night and inevitably rape. So, I mean the population, the Kurds and other minorities within the region, were suffering pretty severely.”
Many times we believe that direct experiences and trauma are the only ways that one can suffer from mental health issues. Narîn, however, provides a different perspective as she discusses the generational trauma that she goes through as a child of Kurdish refugees.
“Inheriting generational trauma is real and it’s a thing. Growing up, I’d hear the stories of the way my family escaped and their extermination. I’d heard about how my parents walked to the border of Iran and how they were mistreated in refugee camps in Turkey simply for being Kurdish. Obviously this takes a toll on your mental health because as a part of the diaspora, you’re here in the United States and you’re also trying to maintain your culture back home but for a while, all you know about your culture is that it’s severely repressed and severely silenced and shamed and looked down upon so it definitely does take a toll on your mental health and I guess your progression more broadly. Especially when you start to grow up and you’re going to school, you’re supposed to participate in trying to celebrate diversity and inclusion and stuff like that but being Kurdish means that you don’t have your own country and people don’t know what Kurdistan is. They’ve never heard of it, these are like middle schoolers and when everyone around you is pointing at a country on the map and where you’re from isn’t represented on a map or even on a globe, it becomes hard because you feel this urge to constantly prove yourself and be defensive about who you are and where you come from just so you can hold onto the story that your parents told you and your conscious of not contributing to the further erasure of your own people.
Narîn shares what she believes governments need to improve on in order to better address the issues that are affecting Kurds and other oppressed religious and ethnic minorities around the world.
“I’d ask governments to centralize human rights and tolerance. I know that sounds incredibly naive and too idealistic but I feel like it’s something that we can maintain in the near future, just to simply centralize human rights.”
“I definitely do think it’s possible for the government to prevent such crises but I think it’s possible but not with the current systems in power. The world has essentially evolved into this capitalistic cesspool of resources from pluralistic nations. You have the corporate elite, whether they’re Westerners or Khaleeji Arabs, regardless of their ethnicity, they’re corporate elites and so forth, they create this illusionary nation-state global order that was essentially created to serve the interests of them. On maps today, you won’t be seeing geographic nomenclature, names that accurately correspond with the indigenous populations. This contributes more to the erasure of ethnic and religious minorities so even beyond the Middle East, let’s look at the continent of Africa or let’s look at the Balkans. These borders were given to these populations by other forces, by imperialist forces, by colonial forces. They fail to correspond with the populations on the ground. I think the nation-state global order in its entirety and the ever-expanding rise of the global right and the push for capitalism, these are definitely barriers towards preventing humanitarian crises and environmental crises and so forth. I think more social reform, the more social consciousness that such systems could possibly be dismantled or reformed for the benefit of humanity regardless of class, race, or religion.”
Narîn concludes the interview with a lasting hope for the world.
“I simply wish for the safety and good health of us all. I wish for the liberation amongst all oppressed groups; for Kurds, Syrians, Yazidis, for every minority in between. I hope my future consists of a future of coexistence that I share with all my brothers and sisters on Earth.”
(Ali, a Yazidi farmer who will be resettling in France soon as a refugee - photographed by Narîn)
During the summer of 2018, Narîn traveled back to Kurdistan, near the border of Iraq and Syria where she worked with displaced Yazidi refugees. When ISIL invaded, local militia and governmental militia military groups were unable to provide them with security, forcing them to flee. Thousands of these refugees have been in these camps since 2014 when the recognized Yazidi Genocide occurred. She has collected some stories of her own which she wishes to share.
Ahlam Murad, 15 years old
Ahlam and her family fled ISIL by foot the night they had invaded the city of Sinjar. She now lives in this camp with her family. She paints as a way to heal her trauma and to depict the sorrows of the Yazidi people. She is recognized by several NGOs and several local agencies on the ground as an artist and has even sold some of her artwork in an effort to raise awareness.
(Ahlam poses with some of her many works of art)
Falah al Razan
Falah is at the refugee camps near Duhok. He was also forced to flee because of ISIL’s attack in Sinjar. He is an artist who also works to teach younger children at the camp about art. He leads classes and helps the kids at the camp cope with their grief and hardships through their artwork.
Khalid Dakheel, 18 years old
Khalid and his family are from the city of Sinjar. They were forced to flee due to ISIL’s invasion in 2014 so they have been in this refugee camp since then. Despite his hardships, he works as a journalist from the refugee camp. He has written articles that have been published and he creates his own videos through the use of his phone.
(Narîn and Khalid inside his tent at the camp)
(Two young girls at the camp photographed by Khalid)
(Khalid with other children at the camp)
(Father and son at the camp photographed by Khalid)
There needs to be much more compassion and understanding surrounding the humanitarian issue of displacement. There are better known displacement crises such as Syria, however, there are many other displacement crises that have occurred and continue to occur all over the world that are not known about at all. It is important to raise awareness to all the various groups of people who have been displaced and forced to resettle elsewhere because of war, persecution, or violence in order to widen one’s perspective and not be ignorant towards others’ stories.
Mental health is a large aspect of displacement that is often forgotten. Displaced persons have much higher rates of depressive and posttraumatic symptoms than the general population . According to a recent study, it has been found that displaced persons who are older in age, more educated, female, and had a higher socioeconomic status before fleeing, are more susceptible to having severe PTSD. When posttraumatic symptoms are left untreated, displaced persons find it difficult to lead a better life . They have to cope with stressors such as the loss of their country, their cultural resources, families , friends, and prior social statuses. Distress also results from leaving family and friends behind in the country of origin that continue to suffer from ongoing conflict . Along with providing refugees and other displaced persons with proper resources such as shelter, food, water, education, and jobs, their mental health must also be prioritized. Mental health is often an aspect of care that is overlooked, however, it is necessary to address in order for individuals to progress and overcome the adversities that accompany their displacement.
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