By Avi Abelow @aviabelow
Nebraska is a long way from northern Iraq. But nearly 3,000 refugees from the region’s small Yazidi ethnic minority settled there and set up a new life for themselves. ISIS drove them all from their homes. ISIS perpetrated horrific violence and for decades, persecuted them for their religious and ethnic persuasion. They are now finally safe in Lincoln, Nebraska.
The Yazidis are a tiny religious minority in Iraq. For centuries they’ve faced persecution for their faith, which pulls elements from different religions. The community was decimated by ISIS in 2014. Pictures and videos circulated , at the time, showing their desperate situation, trapped and surrounded by ISIS fighters. Unfortunately, the Western world did not do anything to save them. As a result, ISIS captured and killed thousands of Yazidis in what the United Nations has described as a genocide.
Thankfully, the Western world finally started helping and they are now resettling in the USA.
“My family was the first Yazidi family to move here in 1997,” said Hesso, who’s now 34.
Since then many followed.
A New Life in Nebraska
“Most of them, including me, see Nebraska as, you know, their town that they’re going to be at for the rest of their life,” said Hesso. He’s already a Cornhuskers fan and works as a Kurdish and Arabic interpreter.
The Yazidis started coming to Lincoln 20 years ago seeking refuge. The first ones to come worked as interpreters for the US army in the region. However, over the past few years, their numbers have grown tremendously in Lincoln. They came for several reasons – low crime rate, plentiful jobs, and affordable rents. However, while Yazidi refugees live across the entire span of the USA, many already left their original places of settlement in order to join the community in Lincoln.
In 2016, Nebraska actually resettled more refugees per capita than any state in the USA.
In a sign that they see themselves staying in Lincoln, and never returning to Iraq, the Yazidi community bought land. This is not a short-term purchase – its for their first communal cemetery – right outside of Lincoln.
“When they saw a lot of their cemeteries demolished back home by ISIS, everybody [was] desperate to establish a Yazidi cemetery, for just Yazidis,” said Khalaf Hesso, who helped buy the land.