Refugee Voices - Ailas, Yazidi

Ailas and his family survived the Yazidi genocide in August 2014. He has graciously shared his story of survival with us. 

 Photo by Shannon Ashton. Ailas, mid 40s, asked that we not show his face.

Photo by Shannon Ashton. Ailas, mid 40s, asked that we not show his face.

"Despite being injured in the ISIS attack in August of 2014, my family and I fled to Sinjar mountain with thousands of other Yazidis. Our family spent 8 days total on the mountain, where there is no food or water. After 4 days on the mountain we were horribly dehydrated in 120 degree F heat. We needed to do something about it or we would die.

So, two others and I snuck down to Sinuni, a village on the other side of the mountain, to get something to bake bread for the children. Sure enough, as we were scavenging for food, ISIS soldiers discovered us and started shooting at us. A bullet grazed my back. A bullet hit the shoulder of one of the two men and the hand of the other. I put my hand on their wounds to stop the bleeding. We snuck back up to the mountain empty-handed, with no food or anything for my children. I couldn't even stand up because of the bullet wound. We were stranded, surrounded by ISIS. There wasn't any possibility to get out from the mountains.

The mountains were so dry. There was no water or food. If we’d had even this much bread [indicates one knuckle], we would have been happy, but we didn't. Some people gave us small animals to kill and eat. We ate the animals just like we were the animals, without bread, without salt, barely cooking them over a rough fire and digging for what little meat that is on the bones.     

Afterwards, we learned that many others had it worse on other parts of the mountain. There were people who even ate leaves from trees. Hundreds of children died from hunger or thirst. Old and young people died because of hunger and thirst. Some women killed their newborn babies rather than watch them die from imminent dehydration. There were people who drank their own urine to save themselves.  

And those were the people who escaped. Since the attack was such a surprise, many couldn't escape at all: We were forced to leave old people, injured people, and people with mental issues were left behind in the villages around Sinjar. They couldn’t run with their families. ISIS killed all of them, burned them all together, and threw them in mass graves. A woman here in Serres, Greece, with us, her brother had mental issues and was in a wheelchair. ISIS shot him in the head.

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From the mountains of Sinjar we went to Syria, and from Syria back to Kurdistan (an autonomous region of Iraq). On 13th September 2014, just a little over a month after the genocide, we went to Turkey. We had better chances at survival in Turkey. A batch of 4,000 of us entered Turkey together. We went to Siirt, where we stayed in shelters for a year and 6 months, working odd jobs and trying to survive.

In February 2017, we decided to travel to Greece to join the Yazidi diaspora gathering in Germany, but when the borders closed in March 2016 we have been forced to remain here in Greece ever since. It's been difficult to leave everything behind and face an unsure future in Europe. Sometimes I feel bitter and angry because we've lost our homeland and face losing our culture altogether. But what can I do?"

Serres camp is home to 600+ Yazidi refugees, all of whom survived the 2014 genocide. LHI is the only organization based in Serres. Our program is wonderful - we teach English, German, dance, fitness, yoga, and other healing activities. We also do several kinds of distribution, such as vegetables, clothing, shoes, hygiene, and more. Please consider supporting this fantastic project here.  

Story collected by Kate Hubrich