GULA NISSANI SAFE HOME
Everything you need to know about the safe home in Kurdistan, Iraq
Gula Nissania is a 40-room residential facility located in northern Iraq. It’s the only facility in the region where a Yezidi or other racial minority woman/girl can live with her child of ISIS rape. The Safe Home offers a range of programs that support the resident’s livelihood, social status, vocational skills, and language learning (English). We recently opened up for the second cohort of survivors in September 2018.
BEDS + BATHS
LIVING AREAS + KITCHENS
OUTDOOR PATIO + OFFICE
THE GULA NISSANI MISSION
The 20 Pillars of Gula Nissani Safe Home Services
Guards are posted at the locked entrance gate. Staff monitor security cameras and security dogs closely watch the approach of strangers onsite. Residents sometimes face threats from their own relatives who resist their choice to live in the Safe Home, particularly if the resident is a mother of a baby sired by an ISIS terrorist. Relatives show up to visit often, sometimes to try to coerce the young woman to abandon her baby sired by ISIS rapes and to return alone to her family. These attempts are facilitated by Yezidis working governmental health facilities and agencies against the policies of their superiors. We allow no males on the grounds other than our staff or workmen other than preapproved scheduled and supervised visits. Residents leave the grounds only with approved escorts on trips planned in advance. Family visits with women and children are supervised onsite. In some cases unrelated males have come seeking to remove a baby from his mother as zealots of the Yezidi religion that disallows mothers from keeping babies sired by ISIS Muslims. Dramatic scenes develop in these meetings, with yelling, grabbing, fainting, crying, and other emotional displays. Babies are torn from their mother’s arms by male relatives on occasion, and mothers faint as they are overcome with grief. Each visit tends to involve a different set of relatives who wish to try to persuade the mother to give up the baby where other relatives have failed. Residents can accept or refuse any visitor, and terminate the visit at any time, but in cases where strong tactics are used by family members, staff remove the offenders from the premises immediately and refuse their return. Family members are generally unmoved in their ongoing opposition, so mothers eventually take their babies abroad to western countries. But even there they cannot be placed in Yezidi communities due to concerns about the safety of both the child/children and their mother.
The safe home is located in a secluded 40 room complex atop an historic village and accommodates 28 women and children. It is a new facility built for this purpose, with 7 private carpeted rooms in one building, and 6 bedrooms in the other, large hall, meeting room, salon, 5 bathrooms, laundry, kitchen, patios and 3 dining areas. Outside are extensive gardens with fountains and waterfalls. Beds and wardrobes are provided. The remote location allows group trips into the adjacent hills and gorge where nature is protected and enjoyed.
Upon obtaining their freedom from ISIS, residents are given a full medical examination in a medical facility and appropriate follow-up care for diseases is arranged. Thereafter, medical and dental services are provided intermittently by the Safe Home by bringing American doctors and dentists both onsite and into local clinics/hospitals or visiting local health facilities. In some cases we bring surgeons to provide for special operations in Iraqi Hospitals.
Licensed female psychologists from America and Europe visit the site once a week for individual sessions and group sessions. Female Art Therapists from Western countries provide routine classes. The focus is not on rape experiences, but rather the future of the residents and their children, and how they vision their lives progressing.
Meals are provided 3 times a day, prepared by staff and residents jointly on a rotational schedule. Meat is on the menu for every meal to assure adequate protein. Beans are used as a protein supplement. Chicken and beef are usually provided, and sometimes fish. Fresh fruits and vegetables are provided from the local wholesale bazaar, most often oranges, bananas, apples, cucumbers, tomatoes, okra, potatoes, onions and a wide variety of seasonal fruits and vegetables.
Mature female expat social workers and counselors live onsite along with the manager to assure 24 hour social support. All daily activities are guided by these providers according to protocols developed jointly by staff and residents. The goal is to keep the residents constructively engaged in their personal betterment and to bring joy and self-esteem to their lives.
Programs include cooking, sewing, knitting, crocheting, weaving, spinning yard, washing raw wool, dying wool, designing clothing, handbags and carpets, handcrafts, woodwork, metalwork, English language, computer skills, public speaking, resume writing, and literacy in the native language, among other programs. Native experts and expats join in providing these training programs.
Adult residents receive a monthly stipend of $150 which staff guide them in spending wisely for their personal benefit. Those who excel in skills training are given opportunities to earn more cash depending on what they produce. We have a contract from Hong Kong to produce small panda bears, for example, and each bear completed to quality standards earns the resident $5 in addition to her usual stipend. Furniture is also being produced and sold on local markets using Russian Pine and Malasian Meranti wood.
The residents have serious life decisions to make, and need encouragement to feel empowered, to gain skills, and to practice skills, gradually increasing their comfort zones, their ability to interact with people in the business world, and to attend social engagements. Our staff provide constant mentoring in all areas of need and interest among participants.
The community tends to attach a stigma to young women returning from sexual slavery with ISIS, despite a fatwa from their religious leader accepting them fully into the Yezidi community. The children of Yezidi women with ISIS fighters are banned from living with their mothers in any Yezidi home or community, and are the targets of pressure to separate them from their mothers. In some cases the babies are killed, left in Syria, sent to Baghdad, or left in Mosul orphanages. Kurdish orphanages refuse them, as do all other safe homes for Yezidi mothers and children. We constantly work with people in the village hosting the safe home to assure that such stigmas are minimized, and encourage women from the village to work with the residents in their skills training, social activities, and meals. To build relationships, the residents are preparing to open a soup kitchen to service widows and orphans in the village, both Christian and Yezidi.
Visitors, even short-term staff, are not allowed in the safe home dorm. Special rooms and garden seating areas are provided for family visitations. Men are never allowed into the dorm unless they are workmen scheduled and supervised in their work for limited periods. The names and histories of the residents are not shared with anyone unless the resident expressly agrees, and then without her face showing, and with an altered name. The parentage of any baby is kept secret even from the residents as much as possible. Locations of emigrating residents are not shared so they can choose who to communicate with as they start a new life abroad.
A constant stream of journalists seeks access to these residents to tell their stories but they are routinely blocked from access. If a resident wishes to tell some portion of her story, she is allowed to do so under supervised conditions, without showing her face or giving her real name. All requests are handled in advance by the manager so that no pressure is placed on the resident to allow interviews. The only obligatory interview is with a judge from the Kurdish government that allows them to obtain actionable information to use in pursuing terrorists, and to assure the woman is officially registered as a former ISIS victim for the purposes of counting, reporting, and access to future benefits.
Residents are sometimes referred by word of mouth and other times by the government authorities. There is a special program operated by the Directorate of Health for women returning from ISIS, a survivors center in Dohuk, and there are health services provided through the Maternity Hospital. A residential shelter for women in danger is also available to women facing severe personal threats. Police protections and court protections are also available but extensive assistance is required to assure appropriate use of such services.
Women and girls returning from ISIS often lack IDs. Their forced marriages to ISIS terrorists are unregistered, and their status on ID cards has to be changed from single to widow. Their children face great difficulty and expense in obtaining IDs, and are required to list their religion as Muslim rather than Yezidi, and to take the name of their terrorist father. The mother of such a child officially lacks legal custody of the child, and those born in Ninewa are generally taken from the mother and sent to Baghdad soon after birth, and face limited chances of survival. Those born in Syria are usually taken from the mother by coercion or tricks involving collusion by her Iraqi Yezidi family members and the Yezidis living in the area of emancipation and/or human traffickers working with the families to return their daughters without the child. Assistance with IDs and passports is provided by the MedEast lawyer who has found legal ways to expedite processes that once seemed impossible. Some western countries have agreed to accept women and their babies without Iraqi IDs or passports.
A Kurdish government office repays families who have borrowed money to ransom their relatives, at costs of from $200 in early days to figures now ranging from $10,000 to $15,000 per person. To gain this repayment the human trafficker, usually a Yezidi man, who is trusted by the Kurdish government, must attend with the rescued individual in the government office to verify that they have indeed been ransomed and testify to the price of the ransom. Families usually repay this money to the relatives or friends from whom they had borrowed it. In some cases, however, unscrupulous traffickers take money and do no work. MedEast’s lawyer has been successful in providing evidence to a judge and putting such traffickers in jail until they pay the full amount of the money taken plus court and lawyer costs.
While MedEast refuses to participate in payments to human traffickers, it does, in the course of documenting each case, sometimes obtain information that is actionable by authorities, provides this to the U.S. CIA hotline, facilitates a meeting between the resident and the Assauige or Secret Service in the Kurdistan Region, and allows that information to be used in finding missing family members still with ISIS. In some case we are involved in direct communications with both terrorists and traffickers through the resident, as advisors and mentors in the background, or recording conversations. We urge identification of location of the person in captivity and the identification of captors to the highest degree possible, and turn all recorded conversations and photos over to authorities.
Once family members are released from ISIS, we make every effort to join them with their families as soon as possible, arranging visits, and sharing of information and supports.
When the children of our residents are later freed from ISIS, we accept them as residents with their mothers in the safe home automatically, and if the mother has already emigrated abroad, we care for them until they are returned to their mothers or other family members. They receive the same services as all other residents during that time.
Sometimes babies or children are brought to us without their mothers, as the mothers are still in captivity, killed, living in another region, or missing. We accept them as residents and do all we can to help reunite them with their families and assist them with adoption if their families are not found within a reasonable period of time. Also when their mothers are busy going to and from government offices with their recovery, medical, legal, or family visitations offsite we care for their children onsite.
Most Yezidi girls and women desire to relocate to western nations for several reasons. They can better avoid the stigma associated with having been raped by ISIS members, they can better assure the safety of their children born from ISIS fathers, they gain access to greater benefits for living, they have less fear of being the victim of yet another in a string of many genocides against Yezidis in Iraq, their educational, health and employment opportunities are much greater, and occasionally they already have family members living in other countries and want to unite with them. We work closely with IOM, UNHCR, and host countries to assure their safe transport to foreign countries. In cases where the Yezidi woman has decided to keep her baby fathered by ISIS, which requires her to leave the Yezidi religion, she must travel separately from other Yezidis and be domiciled temporarily and permanently in a location where no Yezidis are present. This aspect is largely ignored by institutions involved in their transport, so we must aggressively press for their separate travel and lodging and assure that no one knows the situation with the father of the child. Usually Yezidis sent to America are placed in a specific town in Nebraska, and those sent to Canada are sent to Toronto, Ontario in an attempt to allow the Yezidis to retain their cultural affiliations. But since Yezidis as a policy reject babies of fathers from another religion or ethnicity, the mother and her baby sired by an ISIS terrorist cannot be safe in those communities even in the west. We are still working to increase awareness of this problem with all agencies involved in transfer of Yezidis abroad.