Yazidi Translators’ Treacherous Escape from Shingal to Germany

By Dr. Amy L. Beam:2013 amy beam headshot t

Nayf’s Journey

At daybreak, December 8, one of my Yazidi translators, Nayf, landed safely in the Greek Island of Chios in a rubber boat with his fiancée and her family of six.

This was their second attempt after failing to make it to Kos Island from Bodrum last week. They left at 10 pm, but high waves forced them to turn back to Turkey half way across.

He sent me a message, “My fiancée cried all the way. We will not try again. I am afraid she will be traumatized for life if she has to do this again. What will we do? We quit our jobs. We can’t go back.”

naif and fiancee

Nayf and his fiancée (center) arrive on Chios Island, Greece

Even though he was on dry land, this university-educated electrical engineer was drowning in desperation. I was his only lifeline.

01 greek islands lesbos chios

I studied the map of the Greek Islands and understood immediately that they had chosen an island too far south, exposed to big waves from the Mediterranean.

Using Facebook messenger, I sent him a map and explanation. “Go further north where the islands are protected. You will find flat water. Your smuggler friend gave you bad advice. Get your money back.”

The next day he arranged to go in a wooden boat out of Cesme, near Izmir. That day he flew from Izmir to Istanbul where his friend refunded his $4000 dollars. He turned right around to the airport, flew back to Izmir, arriving at 9:15 pm, where he dashed to the harbor. The boat was scheduled to leave at 10 pm. Alas, when they saw the boat, it was old and looked unsafe, so they rejected it. He still had the money in his pocket. He continued to search for another boat until finding one going to Chios the next night.

When they landed on Chios at 3:50 am, there were already 50 refugees sitting on the shore. There were no volunteers to meet them. He sent me another Facebook message with a GPS map showing his location, “Please try give me the organization position or send someone to help us if you can.”

They had landed at Paralia Agias Fotinis on Chios Island.

Landing on stony beach at Paralia Agias Fotinis

Landing on stony beach at Paralia Agias Fotinis

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Chios Island, Greece

I searched Twitter for the latest news on Chios and sent him this:

Today, December 7th 500 toasted cheese sandwiches and 600 eggs with bread were shared at Tabakika registration area, DIPETHE registration area and at the port. Right now, 60 kilos of lentils (almost 600 portions) are being cooked and they will be distributed tomorrow.  From the social kitchen

I translated some phrases, sent them to him, and told him knock on a door before the other 50 people:

Please may we have bread and water? We are Yazidis from Iraq.
παρακαλώ μπορεί να έχουμε ψωμί και νερό; Είμαστε Yazidis από το Ιράκ.

where is the new refugee center?
Πού είναι το νέο κέντρο προσφύγων

Can you help us get there?
Μπορεί να μας βοηθάτε να φτάσει εκεί

Three hours later came the message, “We are registering now.”

Registration center on Chios Island, Greece

Registration center on Chios Island, Greece

The Greek government has opened refugee centers called “hot spots” to handle the daily wave of asylum seekers arriving by small boats. The centers are in Piraeus, Mytilene, Chios, Samos, Kos and Leros, where refugees and migrants are documented and registered, before being allowed to continue their journey or turned back to their country of origin. Those eligible to receive international protection because they are fleeing war can stay. Those who are economic refugees will be sent back.

On November 11, the island of Chios opened its temporary refugee center that can house 1000. Last week 3,000 asylum-seekers arrived on Chios.

The centre was built by the municipality of Chios, with the help of the UN’s refugee agency (UNCHR), volunteers, who immediately responded to the municipality’s call for help, and local services. According to island deputy mayor Giorgos Karamanis, refugees and migrants will stay either in one of the 18-square-metre homes or in tents of 240-square-metres placed around the camp.

Each person in Nayf’s group was given a bracelet to wear with a number on it.  They waited three hours for their number to be called.  Their documents were checked.  They were finger-printed, photographed, and registered, and then given a piece of paper as documentation.  By the next night they were on the New Star Ferries ship to Athens, a three-hour cruise in comfort.  Nayf had the tickets to Macedonia in his pocket.

03c new star ferries chios to athens (2)

New Star Ferries ship from Chios to Athens, Greece, leaves at 11 pm

I first met Nayf in September 2014, when he found my phone number online and called me with a desperate plea to come to Diyarbakir refugee camp in Turkey and alert the United Nations to their dire food shortage. They had recently arrived from Roboski, Turkey, after the PKK had guided them to the mountain pass from Iraq.

Nayf Elias explains to Amy Beam that everyone came via Roboski, Turkey

Nayf Elias explains to Amy Beam that everyone came via Roboski, Turkey

Eventually, Diyarbakir camp got a kitchen, laundry, clinic and school, but one year later they are again experiencing food shortages.

On two attempts, hundreds of Yazidis from Diyarbakir camp took buses to the Bulgarian border only to be arrested and turned back.

Nayf left Diyarbakir camp to live in a camp in Iraq and look for work. In February, he helped me distribute $2999 US dollars to 35 kidnapped women, and some orphaned girls, who had escaped ISIS captivity and rape. That is the maximum limit that Western Union will send to Iraq in one transaction. It took two weeks of appealing to supervisors to waive Western Union’s policy that they will not transfer money to Iraq if the donor does not know the recipient face-to-face. Western Union’s policy is that unless the person is known to the donor, it must be a scam.

The private donation came from an elderly man nicknamed “Easy” in Prescott, Arizona. He explained the people of Prescott had been deeply moved when they learned about Kayla Mueller, a young American woman from Prescott who had been captured and raped for months by an ISIS leader, before being killed. “Easy” wanted to help the kidnapped Yazidi women.

With the help of local volunteers, Nayf carefully compiled a list of 35 women and girls who had recently escaped ISIS and documented the cash distribution of 100,000 Iraqi dinar (about $85) to each of them.

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Cash transfer by Western Union

06 kidnapped woman signs for money

Kidnapped woman signs for money

07 nayf gives donation to orphan

Nayf gives donation to orphaned girl

In the summer of 2015, Nayf took a dangerous job working on cell phone towers within 500 meters of ISIS in Shingal. He earned a meager $600 dollars per month. One day when talking on Skype, he told me he was depressed and feeling suicidal. I asked why. He explained his girlfriend was going with her family in the Yazidis’ attempt at a mass exodus to Bulgaria.

I sent him loads of information and advice about the Bulgarian border and urged him to persuade her family not to go, because they would waste money and be sent back. “Do you love her?” I asked, to which he answered, “Yes.”

“Does she love you?”

“Yes, she does,” he replied.

“Are you sure?”

“Oh, yes, I am very sure she loves me,” he replied.

“Then ask her to return to Iraq and marry you,” I advised.

Nayf rejected this, explaining how in their culture they had to wait and he would have to work several years, save money, then the mothers both had to agree, blah, blah, blah.

“That was before the genocide. Since then the rules have changed. If she goes to Bulgaria without you, and you are not married to her, you may never see her again. If she gets asylum, she will not be allowed to request her boyfriend join her. She can only bring her husband. Marry her now. You lost everything in your life. Don’t lose the only thing you have left: the woman you love.”

After two weeks of nightly counseling and prodding on Skype calls, Nayf announced that both his mother and hers had agreed over the phone to their engagement. Her family would not try to escape to Bulgaria. His university-educated girlfriend returned to Iraq and found a job as a nurse in one of the Yazidi camps. They began planning their escape. “Easy,” the benefactor from Arizona, sent another sum of $2999 to Nayf.

Nayf, Amy Beam, and Nayf's fiancée, July 2014, IDP camp in Kurdistan, Iraq

Nayf, Amy Beam, and Nayf’s fiancée, July 2015, IDP camp in Kurdistan, Iraq

Two weeks ago they quit their jobs and headed to Izmir with her family for the illegal boat crossing to Samos Island. On December 8, they successfully registered in Greece. A court in Germany previously has ruled that asylum-seekers who first entered the E.U. in Greece may not be returned to Greece due to lack of adequate care for refugees. After so much negative publicity about refugees drowning, Greece has changed its policy. Greece now provides for the refugees, registers them, then readily sends them on their way to the Macedonia border.

One week ago, Macedonia, just north of Greece, closed its borders which resulted in demonstrations. It is now building razor fences at the Greek border to stop the immigrants. Only immigrants who are eligible for international protection are getting through. If the member countries of the European Union build fences at their borders and install border crossing security checks, then the concept of a united European Union with open borders will be finished. Can the European Union survive if that happens?

Nayf’s journey is not over yet. They have a long road ahead of them to get to Germany where his brother is already living.

Farhan’s Journey

Another one of my Yazidi translators from Shingal, Farhan Mahlo, made it to Germany on November 25, 2015.

I first met Farhan and his family in the Yazidi refugee camp in Sirnak, Turkey, in September 2014, when he translated a story of an ISIS beheading. Farhan’s family lost everything when they fled Al-Qahtaneya, Shingal, August 3, 2014, ahead of ISIS. He used to work for the U.S. Army as a police dog trainer and handler.

Farhan was my best translator in the last year and worked for free, like me. In November 2014, we visited the Turkish mountain village of Beytussebap where I went to research the story of how Turkey destroyed 35 Kurdish villages in the early 1990s. I published the story Beytussebap Was Our Shingal in which Farhan shared his story with our Kurdish hosts of how his family escaped Shingal.

The day after we returned from Beytussebap, the Sirnak foreign police secretly entered into the computer that I had visited Beytussebap and I should be banned from Turkey. Turkey does not want its dark and dirty history of persecution of Kurds to be revealed to the world. In recent months, Turkish military has again been bombing the Kurdish villages of Beytussebap.

When the Turkish government opened a government-supported refugee camp for Yazidis in Nusaybin, Farhan and his family, along with 600 people from Sirnak camp, moved to Nusaybin camp on the promise of better food, a school and a UNHCR office in the camp. By then, the waiting period for a UNHCR appointment to apply for asylum was seven years. I cautioned him against going to Nusaybin.

When he arrived, I asked him about his situation. There was no UNHCR office as promised. “How is the school?” I queried. “And the teachers?”

“They took our computers, but they will return mine in two weeks, because I will be one of the teachers. I have to download the Turkish school curriculum and teach it.” A conundrum. . .Turkey’s school is taught in the Turkish language. Yazidis speak Arabic and Kurdish. Turkey outlaws public education in Kurdish.

Their first winter passed in Nusaybin camp. Another winter was approaching. Turkey broke the two-year peace with the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) and has mounted an unrelenting attack against Kurdish cities and villages, bombing, burning, and shooting live bullets into peaceful demonstrations. The civilian death toll continues to mount weekly while Turkey continues to block over 100 news websites and imprison journalists.

In July 2015, when the Yazidis attempted a mass exodus with buses to the Bulgarian border, Farhan’s family joined in. When they were sent back from Istanbul by Turkish authorities, Nusaybin camp refused at first to let his family return, accusing him of being one of the leaders of the failed exodus.

In October 2015, a section right next to the Yazidi tents in Nusaybin camp was turned into a military camp to house tanks and soldiers. Farhan feared open war would break out soon between the Turkish government and the Kurds. With tanks parked next to their tents, they knew they had to flee once again. His fears came true.

By mid-November 2015, Nusaybin was under curfew for two weeks. Seven civilians were shot dead in the street in one week. Food was not entering the city. No one could leave their house. The co-mayor of Nusaybin cried out on social media for international help to stop Turkey’s renewed siege. On December 6, a police tank was blown up killing six police officers. On December 7, another two teenage boys and an elderly woman were killed, allegedly by security forces.

A divorced working mom in the United States contacted me early this year and asked how she could volunteer from home. I suggested she become friends and a lifeline for a Yazidi family. I put her in touch with Farhan and their friendship developed. Farhan appealed to her for help to go to Germany. With some trepidation, she asked me if I thought Farhan was trustworthy. I vouched for him, and she did something she had never dared before in her life. She sent a whopping $2000 US dollars to Farhan.

With this and money he had earned teaching, Farhan and his family left their few possessions behind and took a 20-hour bus ride to Izmir. He, his wife, two sons, a sister, brother, and nephew crossed in a rubber boat to the island of Samos on November 9, only days before Nusaybin turned into an open war zone. They sailed from Kosadesi, Turkey, at 11 pm and arrived four hours later to Samos Island. It was an easy crossing. They paid $3000.

09 rubber boat lands greece

Volunteers welcome asylum seekers on Greek island

Farhan's two children, happy on Samos Island, Greece

Farhan’s two children, happy on Samos Island, Greece

They were met by Doctors Without Borders and other volunteers, taken to the police station to be processed and fingerprinted, then taken to a camp. They stayed more than one week, waiting for their travel documents. In the end, they left without the documents. Without documents from Greece, they were stopped and questioned hard for two hours at the Macedonia border, but were finally allowed to enter.

After entering Macedonia, they traveled freely by bus to Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Austria, then Germany. It took them 16 days from when they left Turkey by rubber boat with only the clothes on their backs and life vests.

Route taken: Turkey, Greece, Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Austria, Germany

Route taken: Turkey, Greece, Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Austria, Germany

When they arrived, Farhan bought a German SIM card but quickly finished the credit on internet messages. They found a refugee camp in Stuttgart with free WiFi.

That is when Farhan contacted me for help. He was out of phone credit and out of money. They still had 370 kilometers to go to reach his brother in Cologne, northwest Germany. Weekday train fare could be over 100 euro per person. There were five adults and two children. I went into action contacting every friend I knew in Germany.

In the end, after two days, it was another Yazidi refugee who bought a weekend pass for 60 euro. It is good for up to five people on Saturday and Sunday. Children travel free. This friend, whose parents were killed in the ISIS attack on Kocho, August 15, 2014, went to the Hannover train station, paid for the ticket, and sent a PIN code to Farhan who then picked up the ticket in the Stuttgart train station.

On November 29, 2015, Farhan sent a photo of the family in his brother’s room in Cologne. Their journey to a safe country had taken, not only 16 days, but 16 months from when ISIS attacked Shingal, August 3, 2014.

Farhan between his father and wife, Sirnak, Turkey, Sept. 2014

Farhan between his father and wife, Sirnak, Turkey, Sept. 2014

Farhan's family safe in Germany, Nov. 29, 2015

Farhan’s family safe in Germany, Nov. 29, 2015

His family’s journey to safety is not over yet. Farhan sent me a message: “Actually my father ask me to ask u to raise some money for him and my mom to come to Germany.”

Why Are So Many Immigrants Young Men?

Western media has stirred up an irrational fear and backlash against immigrants, saying that ISIS jihadists are escaping to Europe and beyond, sneaking in with all the refugees fleeing ISIS. Their “proof” is that many of the media photos show mostly young men with no women and children. However, this is because the young, single men are sent by their families to be the first ones to get to Germany, get a room, and apply for asylum. Then they can apply for their families to join them. Or their families will enter the E.U. illegally when they know they have a secure destination at which to arrive.

After having faced the kidnapping and rapes of Yazidi women in Shingal by ISIS, no Yazidi woman will dare to travel alone. Both Nayf and Farhan have younger, unmarried brothers who have already arrived in Germany and rented rooms. Now their married siblings follow behind. Their parents remain in refugee camps in Turkey and Iraq, waiting for their adult children to find the money for their escape. The parents are always last.

Adiba, whose escape from Shingal I wrote about in 2014, is yet another Yazidi translator who has sent her brothers and one sister illegally ahead of her to Germany. On December 8, Adiba sent me a message that her teenaged brother, Maher, had arrived that morning on the shores of Chios. Now only she and her parents remain behind, trapped with no money and no passports.

Adiba's brother, Maher, fleeing Khanasor, Shingal, Iraq, August 3, 2014

Adiba’s brother, Maher, fleeing Khanasor, Shingal, Iraq, August 3, 2014

Bassam, another of my translators, had his mother cook me stuffed sweet pepper for my birthday in 2014 in Sirnak camp. Bassam started an English class, without pay, in Sirnak camp and taught English to many Yazidis, including my assistant, Jiyan Havind, who has been helping kidnapped women get their Iraq passports.

Bassam arrived in Germany in October 2015, 20 days after leaving Istanbul. He went illegally by land through Bulgaria with an agreement to pay 50% up front to his smuggler and the rest when he arrived in Germany. In Sofia, Bulgaria, his smuggler locked him up until he called family and friends to get the balance of the money sent. He now must work and find a plan to bring his parents and younger siblings. The family’s future rides on his shoulders. His friends are rooting for him and miss him.

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Bassam with Adiba and Amy Beam on her birthday, Sirnak camp, Turkey, 2014

Ido Mato, who translated stories of the most tragic atrocities at Hilal School’s temporary refugee camp, September 2014, has been in Germany for half-a-year. He was locked up in Bulgaria and beaten for three weeks whenever he asked for food before finally being allowed to leave. It took him six weeks to walk to Germany. His German teacher and other volunteers went to court in Stuttgart to help him fight the court order to return him to Bulgaria. A court has since ruled that asylum-seekers may not be returned to Bulgaria due to inhumane treatment received there. Ido is still waiting for his request for asylum to be granted. He says he will kill himself rather than return to Bulgaria or Iraq. He misses his family.

Ido Mato, translator at Hilal School, Sept 4, 2014, with Amy Beam

Ido Mato, translator at Hilal School, Sept 4, 2014, with Amy Beam

Yazidis Face a Growing Sense of Desperation

On August 3, 2014, then again on August 15, 2014, the Islamic State jihadists, referred to as Daesh in Iraq, attacked Shingal, homeland to over 400,000 Yazidis. They killed or kidnapped over 9,000 Yazidis. The Yazidis are neither Muslim nor Christian. Over 1000 men were shot or beheaded. An estimated 5,000 women were kidnapped, beaten and raped. While some have escaped or been ransomed back, an estimated 3,000 Yazidis still remain missing.

When I first entered the Kurdish-run refugee camps in Turkey in September 2014, the traumatized Yazidis asked me, “When will someone come and tell us where we are going?”

My answer, “Never. Until you understand that no one is ever coming to your rescue, you will sit down here in this camp until Turkey decides to send you back to Iraq.”

Sixteen months later, most Yazidis now understand this truth. There is only one thing that all countries and all Kurdish political parties agree upon, each for their own political reasons of oil, land, and power: “When Shingal is free, the Yazidis will return.”

The only people who do not agree with this sentiment are the Yazidis themselves. They lost everything. They witnessed their family members killed in front of them. Their towns are destroyed and uninhabitable. Yazidis refuse to return to the scene of their massacre to live once again surrounded by Arabs who betrayed them. Unless they have international protection from foreign governments’ military, they cannot entertain the idea of returning and rebuilding.

On November 14, a joint operation with Kurdish militia, Yazidi forces, and the Pershmerga liberated Sinjar city. The talk is that all the Yazidi villages will be cleansed of ISIS within two or three months, then “the Yazidis can return.”

There are over 3,000 Yazidis who joined Peshmerga to fight ISIS. One might wonder what they are fighting for, if not to return to their villages. One Yazidi Peshmerga made his purpose clear. “Daesh killed my mother, father, uncles, and six brothers. My wife and child are missing. They shot me six times and left me for dead. I recognized all of them from neighboring Arab villages. I used to work with the one who shot me. I want to do to them what they did to me, but I will not hurt any woman or child. It is against the Yazidi religion.”

Turkey’s immigration law for refugees provides only for temporary asylum, not permanent residency. When it is deemed safe in their home country, they must be returned.

The talk of sending Yazidis back is sending a sense of panic and urgency through the Yazidi refugee camps in both Turkey and Iraq. Every week, several thousand more Yazidis are leaving illegally for Europe. One Yazidi predicted that by the end of the year, most of the Yazidi refugee camps in Turkey will be empty of the 15,000 Yazidis. Only the poorest with no money to escape will remain.

In Iraq, at least 200,000 displaced Yazidis are living in Kurdistan. Since Turkey began requiring passports from all Iraqi citizens, they can no longer freely travel to Turkey to go illegally by boat to Greece. The normal wait for getting an Iraqi passport is up to two years in Duhok and two months in Sulaimani. Most are trapped in Iraq.

The Germans Are Reaching Their Breaking Point

“Easy,” that anonymous angel in Prescott, Arizona, who helped Nayf and his fiancée, sent me a news item about a small town in Germany that is in an uproar against the massive influx of immigrants. According to this story, the dogs and cats are disappearing. Immigrants are defecating in people’s gardens, staging riots in the local church and stealing from local stores. One person blogged about “theft problems in stores where refugees walk in, take what they want or need, and walk out again without paying. In the beginning, grocery stores called the police, but stopped doing so after they were told to write up the losses and contact someone at the local municipality to reimburse them.”

Not to be unsympathetic to the German people who have shown incredible charity and tolerance, and should be collectively awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, but one might imagine why this seemingly uncivilized behavior from refugees might occur.

If there were no toilet available, I might at least choose a hedge and garden soil rather than a sidewalk or hallway to relieve myself. If I and my family had not eaten in two days, I might take a loaf of bread from the corner store and be too ashamed to look the owner in the eye. Yes, I am pretty sure I would. If I had not eaten in five days, I might start looking keenly at that dog, but I don’t like to think I would go to that extreme. And yes, I might interrupt a church service, holding a child in my arms, to scream at the top of my lungs, “Why aren’t you good church people helping us? At least let us use the toilet! Where is the world? Doesn’t anyone care?”

Who has the luxury of time to listen to the church choir when there is a crisis of staggering proportions outside, threatening the very existence of your community and country?

The European Union’s “Solution”

The root of the problem is not the generous German people still apologizing for their grandparents’ sins, nor the immigrants. The problem is the other countries of the world that have turned a blind eye not only to the suffering of the refugees, but also to that of the German people. Of all countries in the world, Germany stands far above others in taking in immigrants fleeing war.

Rather than come to the aid of Germany, the member states of the European Union signed a draconian agreement with Turkey to send $2.1 billion euro to Turkey in exchange for stopping all refugees from leaving Turkey for Europe. In the first week Turkey arrested 1300 people trying to leave Turkey for Greece.

In the cruelest strategy for self-preservation, the E.U. further rewards Turkey’s campaign of terror against its own Kurdish citizens by promising to waive visa requirements to Europe for Turkish citizens and to renew talks for Turkey to enter the European Union.

The Yazidi refugees promise, if “Europe won’t come to us and help us, we will come to them.”

An American activist for Yazidis, living a comfortable life in Germany for 32 years, says, “I’m thinking of moving to South America. Our economy is destroyed.”

Meanwhile, United States politicians dither about whether to allow asylum-seekers from Iraq enter the U.S., as if the U.S. had nothing to do with the death and destruction in Iraq after it exported its “democracy and freedom” to Iraq based on the non-existent “weapons of mass destruction”.

How To Donate

Readers who wish to make a donation to any of the people mentioned in this story, so they can help their parents join them in Germany, may contact Amy Beam for how to send a Western Union transfer directly to the person or may donate at Beam’s PayPal page for Kocho Shingal Fund. In the description field, please specify how to spend your donation.

Dr. Amy L. Beam has been assisting the displaced Yazidis since the Islamic State jihadists attacked them August3,  2014.  She writes political and historical commentary on Kurds and Yezidis in Turkey and Kurdistan at Kurdistan Tribune and her public Facebook page. Twitter @amybeam; amybeam@yahoo.com.  

One Response to Yazidi Translators’ Treacherous Escape from Shingal to Germany
  1. Sadiq
    December 19, 2015 | 09:40

    PM Erdogan SHOULD withdraw all its troops from Southern Kurdistan. They are not needed. In stead, Erdogan should resume with talks with PKK. Ankara has its own Turkish problem to resolve. No external occupation of another sovereign state ( Southern Kurdistan) welcome.

    How come Ankara did not have any issue with dictator Saddam regime? Perhaps Saddam was enough powerful to counter any military threats posed from neighbouring Turkey.

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