Three years ago, when he came to India to study pharmacy, Hussein (name changed) was just another Iraqi student pursuing his dream of a better future. Today, that dream is perhaps the last thing on his mind. One of the two Yazidis left in India, he fears for the safety of his family back home — as well as his own.
Hussein says his family had to leave their home in Shekhan district and flee to the mountains because of the advancing Islamist militant group ISIS, which has been targeting his religious community. “Seventy people from my community were forced by the ISIS to convert at gunpoint. My family fled our home for fear of the advancing ISIS forces and are living in the mountains but Kurdish forces are constantly trying to push them back,” says Hussein.
“ISIS has given an ultimatum that they will kill 150 families this Friday. I am worried about my parents, brothers and sisters. There are very few people from my religion and we are being targeted by ISIS. I want the Indian government to help us,” says the 25-year-old, who was among 16 students from the community who came to study at the Rajiv Gandhi University of Health Sciences in Bangalore.
He says contact with his family has been limited to a few
SMSes every three or four days, when one of his brothers comes down from the mountains to the city to buy rations and gets to charge the family’s mobile phone.
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Fourteen of Hussein’s Yazidi collegemates went back home for the vacations. Some of them have since gone missing while others are living in the mountains, surviving on the limited rations that the Kurdish forces dole out. Hussein and another student stayed back to study — something that he has barely done in the past few days.
He took leave from his college principal for the trip to Delhi so that he could help his family and community by highlighting their plight.
In Delhi, Hussein lives in fear of being attacked by fellow Iraqi students given the vitiated atmosphere at home. In the 10 days that he has been here, he has shifted hotels twice, finally taking refuge in a religious place in central Delhi with the help from a relief organisation. Hussein is being helped in his efforts to garner support for his community by an NGO called the Live Values Foundation, which has now relocated him to a safe location.
“Our MP Vian Dakhil ( who recently highlighted the plight of the Yazidis in Iraqi Parliament) was supposed to come to India and meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi. But she was injured in a helicopter crash. Now a three-member delegation will come to India to talk to the Indian government about the plight of the Yazidis,” he says.
Talking about the pre-ISIS days, he says Iraq was “as safe for us as for any other Iraqi”. “That has now changed and every day there are more reports of deaths and torture of my community by that militia. I do not know how to make the international community wake up to what we are going through,” he says.