Dr Paul Vallet: Welcome to the Geneva Centre for Security Policy weekly podcast. I'm your host, Dr Paul Vallet, Associate Fellow in the GCSP Global Fellowship Initiative. For the next few weeks, I'm talking with subject matter experts to explain issues of peace, security and international cooperation. Thank you, listeners, for tuning in. A few weeks from now, we'll be seeing an anniversary of an event that stunned the Middle East and the wider world, when jihadist fighters of ISIS overran Mosul and much of northern Iraq upending the lives of millions among which the Yazidi people living around Mount Sinjar this event began the odyssey of the guest. I'm very pleased to welcome on this week's podcast Ms Adiba Qasim. Adiba Qasim is one of the Global Fellowship Initiative’s “Young Leaders in Foreign and Security Policy”. Born into a Yazidi family of the Sinjar district in northern Iraq, she was about to begin her university studies in Mosul in 2014 when ISIS captured the area, forcing her to flee alongside members of her family. Undaunted by her displacement, she then became a freelance journalist as well as assistant to foreign media covering the Kurdish, Iraq government and coalition forces counter-offensive that resulted in the retrieval of Mosul in 2016 and 2017. She also worked with the Yazidi survivors who were held in captivity by Islamic state, as well as forcefully recruited child soldiers of ISIS. She is an asylum seeker in Switzerland she has been sponsored and arrived at the GCSP in the autumn of 2018. She has since enrolled at the University of Geneva and continues to testify on behalf of her community. She has been profiled by both Swiss television and print media, most recently the Tribune de Genève. Adiba Qasim’s story and accomplishments have mightily impressed us all at the GCSP. And it is the further this that I'm very pleased to speak with you this week. So welcome again, Adiba, welcome to the podcast.
Ms Adiba Qasim: Thank you so much for having me.
Dr Paul Vallet: Well, my first question to you is, well, precisely because what struck us is always how passionate you've told us about education. And so I wish you could tell us a little bit about the educational programs that you've been able to join, while being a refugee and that led you to work continue to start your studies here in Geneva.
Ms Adiba Qasim: Okay, so I will just give you a little background about my story with my journey with the education. So, I came from northern Iraq, I belong to the Yazidi community and that is a community where I was always rejected, I came from a village and poverty and I was not recognised, I didn't have an ID when I was born because of the war. So, I was a stateless, and then when I was the age to go to primary school, I was not accepted because I didn’t have an ID. So, it was really painful for me as a younger little girl, my friends were going to school, I was not able to join them, I was not able to be one of them. So, it was really hard. But then I was always studying at home reading, reading with my friends, writing with them. And I was always, even though it was very little, I was always believing that one day I will go to school, one day, I will be able to read and write and I was trying always to impress everyone that even if I don't go to school, I can read and write, I was taking books and borrowing books from my friends, etc. So, I continued that self-education at home for 18 years, and until 2013 and 2014. So, finally I found a solution, I found an opportunity to go to make a general exam and to start, how to say, my dream to go to university, I was always dreaming of being a biologist, I wanted to be a professor of biology and to teach in my village, I was always wanted to be one of the woman who could, you know, really do something in her village, and open the door of the opportunities for other woman because, I came from a very difficult region, especially for men and women, but especially if a woman was very hard, conservative and it wasn't safe. A woman cannot travel alone, you cannot always show our identities, etc. So, I always wanted to change something, I was always saying that either I would die or get to my education, you know, get where I want to be. So, I was about to make it and unfortunately in 2014 the Islamic State, they attacked Mosul and then they attacked Sinjar where they committed the genocide against my community. So we had to flee, we had to leave home and I was not speaking in English at the time, I was only speaking Arabic and Kurdish, then I became a refugee and Turkey for the first time and that was in the end of August 2014. And even the situation was crazy. I was with 2,000 people. There was nothing in the camp at all, in the in a very big military camp, were we lived there. But still, I wanted to do something, I wanted to learn English and tell the world what have happened to us what have happened with my people. So, in the refugee camp, I was able to learn English I was writing my sentences and speaking to media, and then I decided to go back to Iraq, but unfortunately, I was not able to study because Mosul was again, controlled by the by ISIS, Daesh. And the university was taken by them and everything. And then, I started to work with the other Freelance journalists, and I was working with survivors. So, I put my education aside, and I continued, to work and to advocate and to document the crimes and, and the conflicts between different groups. So, then today, I'm in Switzerland, as a refugee again, for the second time. When I arrived here again, I was, you know, all I want is education. All I want is to go to school again. You know, I was in the refugee camps here in Switzerland. And when I was telling people that I want to study and they were saying, “that's too much, you know, find a job”. And, I was like, “no, I am here to study.” I want to study law this time, I want to change something because of all the injustice that I faced, everything that I've faced as someone who belongs to a minority, as a woman, as a journalist, I had to leave everything behind me because of lack of justice, because there was no right to protect me. So, I was like, I want to study law. And then, nobody was believing me that I really want to study, because I already started a career, I was already working, but I was like “No, we need, I need much more than this. I want to do more”. So, I arrived to the GCSP in 2018. And then, thanks to the GCSP they helped me to find this opportunity at the University of Geneva, they told me about this programme, which called Horizon Academic, it's a programme for the refugees and migrants to integrate at the University of Geneva, and to continue studying, to follow our studies and our dreams, and thanks to them, I'm able today to study. And then the biggest challenge for me was French, because I wasn't speaking French, like, I was beginning my fourth language. So, the challenge was, you have to learn French to be able to study now, I was like okay. So with the Horizon Academic, I started, I was taking French classes, I was learning French, but at the same time, I had the opportunity to listen to my future courses, in different faculties, what I really want to study, but I decided to study international relations, focusing on law. So, that it will help me really to understand more about the levels of international relations, but also, what I want to do, which is law. You know, I'm just starting with like very basic, basic law. So, I passed my French exams, I arrived at a good level where I can really understand my classes. And in the end, I also succeed in my classes, I pass my exams. And I continue.
Dr Paul Vallet: Well, I mean, that's, of course, something that tells us marvellously in a large part also of what I was going to ask you in next. Because you've alluded to the fact that your own educational challenges had given you this original calling of wanting to teach biology in your village and now, you're doing law and international relations, also to help out with your community as well. So I was wondering whether you also in all of that, keep in mind and think about how important our educational opportunities for your people the Yazidis, whether they're still in the home region, or whether you, they have sought refuge in other countries and Whether some of you who are abroad, sometimes reflect and are thinking about organising on how to help people back home with these educational challenges that you've experienced first-hand?
Ms Adiba Qasim: Since 2014,thousands and thousands of people that they will oblige to leave home, they were persecuted, killed, kidnapped, and they are still, I mean, it is an ongoing genocide, it's not over, it's not something that we say, okay, so now we can heal from it. It's ongoing, so there are still more than 2m000 women and children who are kidnapped, there are still mass graves that are open, and not completely recognised. So, but then I think, the tools to heal a community and to build a community, again, only we all we need is education, not just in law, we need medicine, we need engineers, we need artists, we need historians, politics, because we don't have a good political system, we don't have a health system, we don't have a law, we don't have rights, so there is so much missing. And I think the only way that my community could heal, it's really through education. Let's not forget, also, in 2003, when the American’s, when Saddam Hussein, one of the things when I was 10 years old, and then at that time, everything started to fall apart. And, a lot of people, they left their school and they left, their universities, because the big cities became very dangerous, especially for minorities, and then. So, a lot of people were left behind, we know, education, so then generation after generation, so how you could build a community without having access to education, so that's why I mean, after the genocide, the education is like a hope for us, we who are abroad, I have my siblings, who are also all refugees in Germany, they're all studying, days and nights that even my mom, she's a refugee. I admire her, she's a refugee in Germany, she's over 60, and she's going to school and, like, our traditional woman who've never been to school, from a poor village, but she was always telling us that, we want a better future for you and your siblings, which they did it. But after she came to Germany, she said I want to study, I want to go to learn the language, I want to do something, I want to speak out. So, she's doing that. So, for all of us, we are all trying not to do our, our little parts to find justice, and to build the community and to build the home again, it will take generations, unfortunately, it will take so much time, and then we, my generation who face these genocide, I think we are holding a big responsibility on our shoulders, it's our duty to do something. So, we prepare ourselves and we prepare for the next generation, we prepare for 40 years or 30 years later. So that's why it's really, it's really important, that's why I chose this path. But not only for the Yazidis for all other refugees or our other minorities, there are generations in other places who have been born and grown up in the refugee camps, and there is no education, so it's complicated. But I'm always positive.
Dr Paul Vallet: So you are and also extremely sobering in reminding us that what you and your people have gone through is still ongoing, and how long the pass is, so I think it gives a lot more weight indeed to, the efforts that you've been described, and that in particular, the opportunities with these particular outreach programmes like Horizon Academic, or others that your siblings may be having in Germany, the fact that host countries have this kind of service available to you, obviously has a has a tremendous importance. And so, in fact, it also of course, to return to this educational experience as well, you have, of course, chosen an area of concentration and subjects that you're greatly passionate about, and I was wondering whether in the midst of this subject, of these areas of concentration, you're finding subjects that you're studying, and that you feel really mattered to you in a most important way in what you want to do as you pursue your career?
Ms Adiba Qasim: For me, I mean, personally in law, I'm good now I mostly study and learn Swiss law. Constitution, especially. So, I love it. Sometimes I stayed in the library from the morning until the night and I just read and but at the same time, I feel so lucky, I just I really feel so lucky to be able to mean to access to those books at the University of Geneva, when I am, you're walking in the library, I just say, I can do something, I have access to all of that, so, thanks to Horizon Academic, which is a very unique program. And we need more and more programs like that to exist in different places; there are a lot of refugees who are in the host countries and who are not access to, there are not opportunities for them. So, and let's not forget that a lot of refugees who were studying in their home countries, and then they want because of the war or other issues, they couldn't bring their, their papers with them, and then it's most of the time is very hard for us to access to education, because we don't have a paper, we don't have a proof to show, I think this should this can be done, this should be changed. Because if we refugees, if we have the motivations, and if we have the strength to study and to change something, and to do something, I think they should give us more opportunities, and as well, for the people in the field, there are a lot of IDPs, who are in the camps in their countries, there are no opportunities for them to study, or some of them, they're older now, they can't go for example, to a primary school, but there are no, there are no opportunities, and there are no, they're not having access to, because of their age, or because they're not access to education. So I think there should be more, more opportunities for them, they should change the system, so more people can access to education, and then the key for peace is education, people can really, change their communities, change their environment, and like to learn, to get out of their bubble, and to learn that there is another world exist beyond what they see. So, for me the subject, sorry, I went in different direction by the subject that I find really interesting for me is law, but also , as an asylum seeker in Switzerland since more than three years, for me as a to learn also, what is my rights, is there a law to protect me, so this is all, very important for me, to survive from a genocide and in a refugee for the second time, seeking education, seeking asylum and so law, for me, it's really important to understand better, we can change things if we cannot understand it deep enough.
Dr Paul Vallet: I think what you're, I mean, you're also underlining, I think, particular challenge for people in your situation, which I think is really worth reminding for refugees and asylum seekers who want to pursue education, while they not only have the linguistic challenge, so of course, that's why an outreach program needs to be able to allow them to learn the local language to follow and as you point out, , solve the administrative problem of being stateless. And because higher education systems they're geared indeed often to generate a lot of paperwork and in many ways the simplification is called for when you have profiles such as yours.
Ms Adiba Qasim: But may I add something I think, it's most of the time the host community, if they don't believe in us, so I think we should believe in refugees more, so if I mean we are only seen as a status, okay, so it is a refugee, so they are weak, they don't have the capacity. No, I mean, we are, yes, we are refugee, but we are also powerful, we are refugees, but we can also go to school, we can also, we can do different things as everyone. So, I think there should be, we should more, believing in them, and encourage them to continue in what they want to do. So, at the beginning as I mentioned, those telling me no, no, this is…like how are you going to study law? Yes, I came from Iraq, yes, but I can do it. So, unfortunately, in most of the time there is not enough people to believe in us, so, I mean, me, I can speak different languages. I was a journalist. So, I rise my voice everywhere, but there are a lot of people who are not in my situation, who do not dare to go on media and speak, they just want some peace and to live a normal life without being on media or to fight and fight. S, there are certain things I think should be changed.
Dr Paul Vallet: I think you're pointing to really, as I understand it, a bit of a historical dilemma that's been present for many generations, ever since, , we started to devise policies in regards to refugees and asylum seekers, and a lot of that started in Europe after the Second World War. But it's always I think, raised, I think, the question of, of how the host communities will regard refugees as becoming themselves through their themselves in their efforts, part of the part of the productive community and be able either of course, either to contribute to work or to pursue their education, which will then allow them to work. It's, it's always, I think, been a bit of a contradiction between the policy that's geared to help and welcome, but also then the policy that's geared towards getting these people to rise and rise and help themselves.
Ms Adiba Qasim: Exactly, we talk about integration, a lot about integration, and then in the refugee camps that I've been through, so they always talk about learning the language and integration, but , learning the language by alone, it's not enough for the integration, and then for me, to be integrated in the new society, I need the society to accept me to believe in me first in also, integrations happen from when both sides already, the host communities and the refugees.
Dr Paul Vallet: I was going to turn to a final question, because, I mean, obviously, what you do and, and you're so fabulously outspoken about all this, but I was wondering whether you've learned from your past experiences when you were putting forward the stories of yesterday survivors, and you think there was these experiences, are there any new ways that are emerging in which these stories could become known?
Ms Adiba Qasim: I work with survivors, with woman survivors, with child soldiers in back in Iraq in 2015 and 2017, while I was also the same time working with media, in the genocide, Yazidi women were really , strong even though , after everything they have been through they were held in captivity and some of them more than five years, some of them three years. But, coming from a conservative community and conservative country before it was very hard for a woman to talk about her being enslaved, being bought and being sold. But for the Yazidi woman when they flee from this Islamic State, they started to speak, they have been, since almost seven years, they're speaking everywhere, they're telling their stories, horrible stories and everything that have happened with him and then, as also I was working with survivors, I had to speak a lot about that. We all have to tell our stories. We have been speaking a lot. We have been inspiring people but unfortunately no action has been taken, they listen to us, yes, we are strong. We are inspiring but there is, nothing happening. No, there is not much have been done, no justice. And then there is not even, maybe I'm to unrealistic, there is not even psychological support for those survivors, which is the most important thing to those people who are leaving, they came back from the captivity, they have been held in captivity for years, then they came back for everything they have seen their husbands killed, their fathers are killed their children are taken, they are in the refugee camps, and there is no enough psychological support for them. They I mean, there are some organisations that exist who gave them some support, but the organisation, they don't meet their needs. So, it's really complicated. And, it took so much time and nothing had been done, so, we are waiting for justice to be done, it's only justice that can really heal their wounds, and they will not, I don't think they will stop telling their stories they feel justice, so it's really complicated and it's really difficult for all of us. And as I say, you're not working on something that was in the past. It's ongoing, we are living it, since 2014, and we are living it and soon it is going to be the seventh anniversary. So well, we continue, it's difficult, it's painful, but we give our best. And we will not stop until we change. And then we alone, we cannot do it, we need the International communities, international organisations to support us some with us. Communities who are suffering and elsewhere, we have to act, we have to stand and then, me, as someone, a survivor, from Iraq, from a minority, we're tired of being just victims, we are fighters, yes we have lived with terrible, terrible things, and those stories will grow with us, we can live with this pain until the rest of our lives, but well, we are survivors, , we fight back, we want to live we want a better life for, the generations behind us, we want to make sure that the generations behind us will live in peace, , and that they will not face what we have faced; me at 27 years and all I have seen in, war and genocide. I was an IDP, refugee for the second time, I'm still struggling with a lot of challenges, as a refugee, I'm not still not fully accepted. So, a lot going on. But we stay positive. We continue fighting. So, we're talking about, about the stories of survivors. So, yes the survivor, not just Yazidi survivors, everywhere. So, here for example, in Geneva, there are a lot of talks going on, people talk a lot about women in peace and security, refugees rights and survivors rights, but there are no survivors or refugees included in those talks, the people who most need these peace and security and human rights, they cannot even access to those talks, so that's why I'm saying also, education is important, because we can really be part of those talks, as refugees and as survivors, and we can be, part of the table where they make some decisions for our futures, and it's only the education that will help us to arrive to those levels.
Dr Paul Vallet: What I take away from what you've just been saying is that it's not just the importance of the personal testimonies and the stories that you transmit, obviously, the educational aspect is the second way of getting this through. And what you've pointed out very importantly, is that, , an international justice process and system is also a way of putting a story out there and indeed, of providing this this reconstruction. So, thank you very much for giving us this. Today. That's all about time we're going to have to for this programme, but I want to thank you again, Adiba, very much for joining with us today. And so, to our listeners, I hope you've been inspired by this as well, too. You can listen to us again next week to hear the latest insights on peace, security and international cooperation. Don't forget that you can subscribe to us on Anchor FM on Apple iTunes, you can follow us on Spotify and on SoundCloud. I'm Dr Paul Vallet with the Geneva Centre for Security Policy. And until next week, bye for now.
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