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I Could Not Just Stand By and do nothing

An interview with Adiba Qasim on the International Day of Peace by Charles Falajiki

Can you please introduce yourself?

My name is Adiba Qasim. I am 26 years old and I was born in Sinjar, Northern Iraq. I am a refugee living in Switzerland and a Young Leader at the Geneva Center for Security Policy, studying International Relations at the University of Geneva.

What do you do and why? What is your motivation?

I grew up in the midst of war! I was 10 years old when the conflict started in my country meaning life was very hard. I was also born stateless meaning that I was not officially recognized as a citizen of any country. I did not have citizenship, a passport or an identity document and so I didn’t go to school like other children because I didn’t have the right to enter school like other children. I taught myself at home for so many years and promised that when I had the opportunity, I would pass all my exams.

I am from the Yazidi minority and in 2014, ISIS attacked us and committed genocide against my community and people. I was one of the last people who survived the genocide in my village, and I lost many of my relatives. My family and I fled Iraq illegally and we went to Turkey, where I became a refugee for the first time.

In 2015 I went back to my community in Iraq because I wanted to do something about the situation, I could not just move on and leave it all behind me. I decided to go to Iraq to do what I could to help because I was still breathing, I was free, and I could not just stand by and watch the atrocities acted upon my people. I worked with survivors, women and children who were brainwashed by the Islamic State. I also joined the military during the liberation of my town as a journalist, documenting all the crimes that ISIS committed against my people.

I do what I do because of everything that has happened and everything I have seen. I do what I do because I see it as my responsibility to do something, to advocate and to speak out about what happened to my people so the generation to follow never has to experience what we went through.

What has been the impact of your work?

When I started, I was the only woman doing my type of work as not many women were willing to get involved due to the conservative nature of Iraq as a country and the constant threat of kidnaping by ISIS. In my community alone thousands of women were kidnapped and enslaved by the Islamic State. These kidnappings are still happening today.

Where I come from, being a woman and a journalist is huge. I saw that my role was giving hope to the women I worked with and showed them that they can stand up, and that they can do something. I was helping them to learn about ways that they could take action and I told them that though I cannot be their voice, I can help them to raise their own voice. To me, that had a huge impact in such a difficult situation where women were suffering.

Through working the cases of the survivors, I met so many women who had survived captivity and enslavement. Being one of them - a women from their community who speaks their language - they trusted me and shared their stories with me in a way they never would have with a stranger. To me it was very important to share their stories and to document them so that one day they could be used in the international court where they could perhaps get justice for the atrocities acted against them.

As a refugee in Switzerland and student in Geneva, I saw that people have no idea of what is happening in Iraq and in communities affected by ISIS, so I began to share my stories. I started to share the realities of what is really happening, advocating for the rights of my people and sharing with people the actions they can take to support the situation. I am trying to bring people out of their safe bubbles and open their minds to the realities of war and the peace building process. Given that I am a refugee, I want to talk to the young girls and boys in refugee camps or those experiencing conflict, so that they are able to find peace, as I did.

What does a peaceful world look like to you?

I had never experienced peace until I arrived in Switzerland when I was 24. I spent the first 24 years of my life living in war, in conflict and in fear. So, to me, a peaceful world is one with no conflict.

To me, pace is not only the opposite of war and conflict, peace is also being accepted and respected to matter who you are or where you come from. Peace is when you can live your life without being judged based on your refugee status, color, religion, and ethnic background etc.

Why should the International Day of Peace be celebrated?

It is important to remind people who live in safe situations that there are still millions of people living in war, waiting and demanding peace. They are homeless today because of a lack of peace. They are not in school today because of a lack of peace.

On a personal level it is important that the International Day of Peace is celebrated because I think it is also necessary that every individual makes peace with themselves. To accept and make peace with our past, either good or bad, and to make peace with our environment. That will give us the opportunity to move on and provide peace to others as well.

How do you think we can achieve SDG 16?

We have to see that each person has all their human rights, meaning no one will be left behind without basic rights, like education. Through acknowledging all human rights, justice will be done for those who suffer and weak communities will be able to live with dignity, with their rights will be respected and protected. Currently, weak communities are forgotten and without them SDG 16 cannot be achieved.

What has been your greatest challenge as a changemaker?

I am currently and have been facing challenges since I was a little girl. I have faced challenges in every single part of my life due to my circumstances mentioned earlier.

How do you approach challenges?

I tackle every challenge head on, because my goal is bigger than any one challenge and I know that no challenge could ever be worse than what I have already lived through. What I have lived through has made me strong and there are no challenges that will stop me from achieving what I want.

What advice would you give to other changemakers working to make the world a peaceful place?

One hand cannot clap. My advice is simple: work together, in a group or in a team and believe that it is possible to create huge change.

Where do you see yourself in the near future?

Holding my university diploma in my hands and moving into a position of leadership in the peace building process.


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