How Nadia Murad has become the international face of Yazidi suffering – and resilience

It was perhaps her last chance for escape. Weeks earlier, Nadia Murad had been ripped from her village by Islamic State (ISIS) fighters who murdered her family and took her captive. Along with other young Yazidi women, she was transported to Mosul, in northern Iraq. She was beaten and raped, then passed as human bounty among the militants.

Ms. Murad, just 21 years old at the time, had already attempted escape once, through an open window. She was quickly caught and gang-raped as punishment. Now her latest captor was telling her he was going to take her to Syria and sell her to another fighter. Somehow, she summoned the strength to try fleeing again.

When he left the house unguarded, she put on the garments that covered her face and body – mandated by ISIS for women – and slipped quietly out into the street. Nearby was a mosque where ISIS fighters often went to pray. She instinctively turned her back to it and began walking in the opposite direction. She desperately needed help. But knocking on the wrong door could send her right back to unimaginable suffering. When she came to an area where the houses were dilapidated, she decided to take a chance, reasoning that the militants would have commandeered nicer dwellings. She tapped on a door. 

“Out came a family, and they pulled me in,” she says. “I told them I am from Sinjar, and what happened to me. They told me … we don’t have any relation to Daesh,” the Arabic acronym for ISIS. “So they didn’t return me to them.” 

Instead, they risked their lives to spirit her to safety: The family’s eldest son drove her out of ISIS territory as she donned the robes again, posing as his wife.

Today, three years later, Murad has become the international face of Yazidi suffering – and resilience. The same courage and determination that helped her escape have driven her to travel to more than two dozen countries to tell her story, forcing the world to hear about the atrocities and demanding that ISIS be held accountable for its crimes against Yazidis. She has been widely recognized for her efforts. In September 2016, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime appointed her a goodwill ambassador for the dignity of survivors of human trafficking, and in December the European Parliament awarded her and fellow survivor Lamiya Aji Bashar the Sakharov Prize for human rights defenders. 

It’s a role she didn’t ask for and one that hasn’t brought her pleasure. “It wasn’t something I wanted; it…

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