Saltley Academy in Birmingham is battling radicalisation by hosting talks from Iraqi women narrating horrifying tales of their lives as prisoners of the Islamic State.
Amidst stories of young British students running away to join IS, Saltley Academy has launched an anti-radicalisation campaign to counter the terrorist organisation’s propaganda.
The students sat riveted as they listened to three young Yazidi women in the school’s library. The women, who had come from refugee camps, related their terrifying experiences to deter girls from leaving home and marrying IS men. “I want [young people] not to believe what they see on Facebook,” said 21-year-old Bushra, who is one of the three women. “There is no life with IS apart from rape and killing.”
The ‘Open Your Eyes’ campaign was launched by the Birmingham and Bradford-based anti-extremism charity Upstanding Neighbourhoods with the support of the Amar Foundation and aims to use social media in the same way as IS to combat its propaganda.
“You only need to look around to see why their work is needed so urgently,” said Henna Rai from Upstanding Neighbourhoods. “IS’s propaganda machine is so vast that there needs to be a counter-narrative.”
Open Your Eyes hopes to recruit 10,000 young people to reach out to those who may be drawn to IS, as well as providing a platform for victims to tell their own stories.
Amena Saeed Hassan, a Yazidi Iraqi MP, who helped rescue the girls and bring them to the UK, said, “Daesh (IS) has nothing to do with any religion or morals. It carries out evil crimes against innocents, killing the elderly, men, and babies, taking turns in raping girls they hold prisoner hundreds of times a day. Anyone who has any decent morals and manners wouldn’t join Daesh (IS) but would instead help in freeing their victims.”
Munira was only 15 when was taken away from her family by IS fighters when they invaded her village. “They separated me from my baby sisters, they were only five months and four, and my eight-year-old brother,” she said. “I was devastated, particularly about the baby. I was very sacred, I wanted to die.”
She was taken by a 60-year-old man called Abu Muhammad who kept her imprisoned in a remote house. “However hard I screamed, yelled and cried there was no one to help us. When he raped me he told me ‘you are slaves, you are our slaves of war’.”
Munira was sold between men several times and repeatedly raped. “I was in captivity for three months and 20 days,” she said, eyes downcast. “I used to think I would rather be dead than living through this.”
She finally escaped by jumping out a second floor window and was later reunited with her parents in a refugee camp. Her younger sisters are still in captivity. “I am living in the camp now with my family, waiting. There is nowhere else to go. I don’t have hope for anything any more,” she said. “I want my family and all the Yazidis to be taken away now, because this will happen again and again and again unless we move away. No Yazidi can feel safe at all.”
Bushra and her family fled for the mountains when the IS men took over their village. A young man, who had been a friend of her brother’s told them to go home. When her brother refused, the man held a gun to his head. The IS men then took Bushra, who was 18 then, to another city along with her 14-year-old sister.
When they were told that they would be married, a friend of Bushra’s from the village went to the village and attempted suicide by slitting her wrists. “They knew I was closest to her; they made me go into the bathroom,” she said. “She was covered in blood and I couldn’t look at her. They wrapped her in a blanket and threw her in the street like a piece of rubbish.”
“I thought it would be better to kill my sister and myself. I put a scarf around our necks, but I was too scared. I couldn’t go through with it,” she said when she and her sister were chosen by the same man who had once been the friend of the family.
One night, as she was being raped in his house by another soldier, she could hear her sister being raped by the former friend in the next room. “I could hear her screams filling my ears but I couldn’t do anything to help her,” she said.
Bushra and her sister managed to escape and live in a refugee camp but nine members of her family are still missing. “I want the whole world to hear our story and do something about it, to help free the Yazidi people who are still held captive,” she said. “I wish they would give us asylum, because we can no longer live in Iraq.”
Noor was 18 when she was taken away by the IS men along with her 14-year-old niece. The IS fighters had killed all of the men in the village. They took all the younger women to warehouse filled with Yazidi girls and women.
“A woman told us that every day Daesh [IS] men would come and have their pick of the girls, they took them, raped them, sold them on,” Noor related.
The 18-year-old was chosen by a leader. “He went to fight. And when he came back he dipped his big toe into a jar of honey and forced it into my mouth. After that he raped me.”
Once when Noor tried to escape, she was caught. “He opened the door and allowed the six guards into the room,” she said. “He told the six guards to rape me. All of them, all kinds of ways, everything. I was made to do disgusting things. For two whole days I couldn’t move any part of my body.”
She was then sold to many differently men before finally escaping. “You can’t imagine what it was like. I want them to be punished. I have no hope for the future, as long as there are women and girls being held by Daesh [is]. I can’t think about it.”
* Names have been changed and images disguised to protect identities of the women involved.