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Yazidi Refugees Fleeing ISIS Have Found Home in This Surprising US City

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Chased from their homes by ISIS, thousands of Iraq’s Yazidi ethnic and religious minority are finding “the good life” in Nebraska.

In 2014, ISIS launched an attack on the Mount Sinjar region of northwest Iraq, kidnapping, raping, and enslaving thousands of Yazidi women and girls, and ultimately displacing more than half a million Yazidis, the Washington Post reported.

Years later, Iraq’s Yazidis are still in search of safety and a place to call home — and 3,000 of them have found it, perhaps unexpectedly, in Lincoln, Nebraska, according to PBS.

Lincoln, the state’s capital, is now believed to be home ot the largest Yazidi community in the US, the New York Times reported. Some have lived in Lincoln for decades, having fled previous ethnic violence or persecution after working with the US military in Iraq, the Clarion Project reported, but many made their way to Nebraska after ISIS’s siege.

Take Action: Stop Sexual Violence in Conflict and Emergencies for the Yazidi Community

“Lincoln has become such a popular destination for Yazidis, that they have established a cultural center, a place for refugees to learn the language, how to manage money, and even how to drive,” Jack Williams of PBS reported.

For many, the journey to Lincoln has not been an easy one.

Thousands of Yazidi refugees spent years in camps in Syria, Greece, and Turkey before being resettled, and thousands more are still awaiting resettlement, according to the Guardian.

Others were resettled to different parts of the US and eventually made their way to Lincoln, drawn there by the growing community and support system, according to PBS.

“It’s kind of like back home,” Hasan Khalil, a Yazidi refugee who now runs his own barber shop in Lincoln, told PBS. “It’s smaller. You know, we lived in farms back in Syria. It looked, like, really safe. And that’s what attracted me the most, besides the Yazidi community that we knew from back home.”

Despite its small population — just 1.9 million — the state of Nebraska took in the highest number of refugees per capita in 2016, according to the Pew Research Center.

Yazidi refugees who spoke to PBS said that Lincoln is home to the Yazidis now, they see a future and opportunities there, and are unlikely to return to Northern Iraq, which is still plagued by conflict.

Read more: Nadia Murad Reveals the Horrors She Lived Through as ISIS Sex Slave — and Calls for Action

And while Lincoln is now home to around 3,000 Yazidis, many more remain in refugee camps, hoping for such opportunities and for justice.

Though the UN has condemned ISIS’s attacks on the Yazidis as genocide and many have called on the International Criminal Court to prosecute ISIS for its crimes, justice for the Yazidis is still elusive.

The surviving Yazidi community, represented former ISIS-slave Nadia Murad — who is also a UN Goodwill Ambassador and a Global Citizen — has worked for over two years to bring their case before the ICC, which currently does not have jurisdiction over Iraq, according to the New York Times.

However, in September of 2017, the United Nations Security Council approved the establishment of a team that will investigate ISIS’s crimes and support the Iraqi government’s efforts to hold the terrorist organization accountable, a major step toward securing justice for the Yazidis — but there remains more to be done to address the crimes committed against the Yazidi people.

Global Citizen campaigns for freedom, for justice, for all, and supports Nadia Murad in her fight for justice for her people. You can take action here to stand with Nadia to stop sexual violence in conflict and emergencies.