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Freedom in Lincoln

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Not many Americans would be able to pinpoint the city of Lincoln, Nebraska, on the map, but for a small community halfway across the world in the Northern region of Iraq everybody knows where Lincoln is. Meet the Yezidi community, where Lincoln symbolizes liberty.

We should admit, we had not heard of the Yezidi population before arranging to meet a group of them in the community center in Lincoln. Until we mentioned our local football [soccer] team, the renowned AC Milan, we don’t think they had heard of Italy either. Regardless of this cultural distance, they welcomed us with wide arms, unfazed by the fact that 30 hungry Italian students had turned up for dinner at such short notice, and put on what turned out to be a fantastic night of storytelling, Yezidi dancing and guitar [tambor] playing.

So, who are the Yezidis? And perhaps more relevantly, why are they in Lincoln?

“It’s like we’re living on a small island surrounded by deep waters, everywhere we look, danger surrounds us,” Fasil, a former interpreter for the U.S. army describes the Yezidi villages in Iraq. Yezidis are an ethno-religious minority from the North-West region of Iraq. They are ethnically Kurdish but religiously distinct from Iraq’s predominantly Kurdish population which is why, on August 3, 2014, when ISIS took control of the city of Sinjar and the surrounding villages they didn’t have many places to run.

In June 2016, the UN published a report regarding the ISIS attack that took place on August 3, 2014. Within a few days 5,000 Yezidis were killed and about half a million displaced from their homes.

The majority escaped to Iraq’s Kurdistan regions and to the Kurdish regions of Syria and Turkey, however, as an ethnic minority their safety and freedom cannot be guaranteed in these regions. According to Fasil, until their country is safe again, true freedom from persecution can only be found in the large diaspora communities abroad. The most significant of these is in Germany with a Yezidi community of over 30,000. Other diaspora groups live in Belgium, Denmark, France, Switzerland, the UK, Canada, Australia and, of course, the U.S., where the city of Lincoln proudly hosts the largest Yezidi community in North America.

This is mainly thanks to the hard work from groups such as Catholic Social Services (CSS) who assist the smooth resettlement of Yezidis. They support incoming refugees by helping them from meeting them at the airport upon their arrival in the U.S. to applying for social security, finding housing, clothes suited to the weather and English lessons. Most Yezidis can find work within 24-hours of landing in Nebraska thanks to the 100 percent job placement in Lincoln. As many speak little English upon arrival common jobs include working at meatpacking plants.

However, it was quite clear that the key behind the successful integration of the Yezidi refugees is CSS’ emphasis on creating a support network both within the Yezidi community as well as with the community of Lincoln. Whilst this is mainly helped by the fact that every refugee arriving in Lincoln must be sponsored by either a family member or friend currently living in Lincoln, it is also a result of the various Yezidi-American meet-up events that CSS organize across Lincoln.

Unfortunately, only a select few of Yezidis make it to Lincoln and thousands are still stuck in limbo waiting in either refugee camps or neighboring states. This is mainly because the rigorous application process can take from five to ten years and applicants are sometimes turned down as they fail to recall answers to questions such as, “What did you eat for lunch when you were five years old?”

Another contributing factor is the most recent travel bans and executive order to abolish DACA by Donald Trump. This initial ban that halted all refugee admissions put many agencies out of their jobs, however, CSS reassured to us that until further notice in September this year, they will be receiving new families each week.

Reuniting with family members was the main concern for the Yezidi community members that we met and could be perhaps the main hindrance to their full commitment to Lincoln. Although Lincoln has guaranteed them a sense of security, it is evident that their minds are still in Iraq. When we asked 23-year-old Lena about her future, she told us that she wanted “other parts of her family to come here and for all Yezidi people to be safe. That’s all.”

Thinking about the future is a privilege that not everybody has, and Lena knows it very well. She is just 23 years old but she has no other hope than having her family reunited, living peacefully.

For more information about the Yezidi community of Lincoln email info{at}unitedyezidi.org.

THIS STORY WAS COMPILED BY STUDENTS FROM THE INTERNATIONAL UNIVERSITY OF LANGUAGES AND MEDIA FROM MILAN, ITALY.


Valentina Filippini Valentina graduated in Interpreting at IULM Milan. She wants to have good communication skills because it's fundamental to be successful in life. She hopes to have her own business. Valentina Filippini
Valentina graduated in Interpreting at IULM Milan. She wants to have good communication skills because it’s fundamental to be successful in life. She hopes to have her own business.


Jacopo Gobbo Jacopo graduated in Foreign Languages. He is interested in better understanding people and different cultures because language is the soul of the human being. His dream is to work at Google.Jacopo Gobbo
Jacopo graduated in Foreign Languages. He is interested in better understanding people and different cultures because language is the soul of the human being. His dream is to work at Google.


Ruth Clarke Ruth is from Dollar, Scotland. She studied International Relations at University of Edinburgh. She chose a Master's in Communications for International relations at IULM in Milan because the program is very practical. She is interested in many different fields, she changes her mind every day but today’s idea is to work in a international company as part of their communications team with a focus on corporate social responsibility for businesses. Ruth Clarke
Ruth is from Dollar, Scotland. She studied International Relations at University of Edinburgh. She chose a Master’s in Communications for International relations at IULM in Milan because the program is very practical. She is interested in many different fields, she changes her mind every day but today’s idea is to work in a international company as part of their communications team with a focus on corporate social responsibility for businesses.

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