Thursday, May 26

Brave British mum Rachel rescued Islamic State sex slaves from Syria



Mother-of-three Rachel Miller sells her jewellery and takes out loans to end the horrors suffered by women and girls at the hands of ISIS terrorists.

She pays brokers up to £7,500 a time to free the sex slaves, travelling with her driver to parts of southern Turkey the Foreign Office has declared no go zones.

The first Yazidi girl she helped was just six years old.

She had seen her mum raped and murdered and her dad beheaded by ISIS terrorists , who took her captive and repeatedly raped her for months on end.

Many of the victims are too traumatised to speak. Rachel, of Nottingham, said: “One girl squeezed my hand, not just a hello…but a squeeze that said a thousand things.

“Touch from those who have been raped and taken into slavery is so significant.

“They shy away from any touch, unless it’s from a mother or sibling… to touch a stranger, me, shows that she trusted me.”

Rachel believes one rescue took her across the border into lawless Syria, where, as a Westerner, she would command a hefty ransom fee if kidnapped.

And, on a mission this summer, she paid £7,500 in cash for a 13-year-old girl by selling some of her own wedding gold and taking a bank loan – all without telling her Kurdish husband.

“There are certain things I don’t tell him until afterwards.

“He’s proud but he worries for my safety and knows that I sometimes just do things without thinking,” says Rachel, who has two sons with autism, aged seven and eight, and a 19-year-old daughter.

In a campaign that began in August 2014, Yazidis fled ISIS in northern Iraq and headed for the Sinjar mountains.

The UN says up to 5,500 were killed and 6,300 abducted.

ISIS terrorists “use slavery and rape as a weapon of war” says the UN. Women and children are sold at IS markets in Iraq and Syria like cattle, traded over phone apps or passed from fighter to fighter for as little as £32 in a cycle of rape and violence.

But one recent phone ad read: “Virgin. Beautiful. 12 years old. Her price is at £9,500 and she’ll be sold soon.”

Rachel’s family links in southern Turkey, have given her rare access to a network of intelligence and helpers.

Just this month she flew out and paid £4,500 to have a traumatised child brought over from Syria.

She said: “All we knew was that it was a child under 10 years old. There were obvious signs she had been recently raped.”

Rachel uses the same Kurdish broker, who gets in touch when a girl comes available.

She said: “Sometimes things get difficult and I think ‘what if something happens to me?

“I am playing with my children’s future? But then I think ‘this could be my children’.”

Once Rachel went deeper than she intended as she crossed the border from Turkey into Syria, without realising.

She was driven in the dark and forced to walk for miles to what even the smugglers said was a “very bad place”.

It was a clearing in a field where those waiting to be sold had nothing but a small fire.

Rachel said: “I’m pretty sure we were in Syria. I wouldn’t have gone there if I’d known. Foreigners are worth £114,000 to IS.”

Rachel stayed all night with a woman who had been subjected to abuse too sickening to detail.

But the smugglers wouldn’t let Rachel take her away even though she was death’s door. The woman’s family could only pay part of her “release fee”.

She said: “I lay down and stayed with her all night. Back where I was staying, they were ringing all sorts of people in panic because I didn’t come back.”

When she finally returned, Rachel went straight to her network of donors, raising £2,400 overnight to set the woman free. Some pawned jewellery while others raided their personal bank accounts.

All nine former captives she has saved have been settled back with their relatives or host families in the region.

Around 3,800 Yazidis are still believed to be in IS captivity – including 1,935 women. Their families have been desperately trying to rescue them.

They hear reports that those refusing sex with fighters have been publicly burned to death in cages in the Iraq town of Mosul. And more, of children being snatched from parents.

But it’s not simply a matter of handing over cash. Ransoming girls to outsiders is banned by IS, under penalty of death.

Rachel said: “The foot soldiers decide to sell their girls because they have had enough of fighting and they need cash to run.

“The man who receives the cash I raise isn’t IS, he buys and sells girls as a business. He’s a means to an end.”

Salah Ahmad, a psychotherapist who supports Yazidi survivors of abuse admitted there were concerns that “even a dollar of these payments reaching IS is one dollar too much”.

But he added: “We are talking about human beings. We need to do everything in our hands to save innocent lives.”

Some families don’t have the money, or the girls being sold have no family left – so Rachel steps in.

This was the case, Rachel believed, with the six-year-old girl.

It was thought that her whole family was dead but more than a year later Rachel got word through a contact that the girl’s 13-year-old sister had been found.

She said: “The girl was a sex slave. I talked to the woman on WhatsApp from Nottingham, where I’m just a mum doing the school run.”

Rachel scrambled £7,000 together and freed the sister earlier this year. “When the sisters met they just clung to each other,” she said.

“I mean really held on to each other as if life depended on it.”

Rachel added: “I haven’t told any of the girls that I have helped them to freedom, I just want to be Rachel, someone who cares. Many just think I am this slightly crazy lady who just wants to help.

“I don’t want them to feel at all that they should be indebted to me.”

Rachel’s efforts began when she set out to raise £500 on website Gofundme to help desperate refugees on the Greek island of Kos last year.

Her campaign snowballed and she has now raised more than £47,000 via the site in the last year.

That money has already paid for food, water, clothes and other essentials for refugees living in camps in Turkey, Greece and France.

She recently registered her own charity, called Mesopotamia, and is renting a former bank to run as a charity shop in Nottingham.

Vowing to continue her work for refugees and the Yazidi abused, she said:

“It’s not going to end. It’s going to be years before all these girls are free.

“They are someone’s daughter, sister, mother… if it was my child I would want someone to step up and help.”

Nihad Al Awasi was one of the girls taken against by Islamic State as they sought to “purify” Iraq of Yazidis.

She said: “My village was very beautiful. In springtime, it was full of flowers and lovely fields.

“The thing I used to love the most was hanging out with all of my family. I have 12 brothers and six sisters.”

She was 14 when IS moved in on August 3, 2014, taking 29 members of her family.

“I was terrified,” says Nihad.

“I didn’t know what was going to happen to my brothers and cousins. We thought they would not harm the girls.

“I was given to a fighter named was Salam Hamdou Obaid. He attacked and raped me.

“I managed to escape but I was captured. The leader took me to the market where Yazidi girls are sold. I was bought for 800 dollars [£610].

“He attacked and raped me. I hated him beyond explanation. I felt like committing suicide but every time I thought of my mother.

“After a month, I got pregnant. I felt as if there was a criminal from Daesh inside my womb.

“I was taken to hospital and stayed there for four days due to the pills and other steps I’d taken to try to abort it.”

Despite her efforts, Nihad later gave birth to a boy. She added: “I decided I would escape. There was a neighbour. I said, ‘Can you help?’

She said, ‘Ok, but you have to leave the baby’. I was devastated. Regardless of what happened, he’d become a part of me.”

Nihad managed to flee after 15 months, but alone. She added: “I want to go back to school. My thoughts remain with my missing siblings and my cousins. I still don’t know their fate.”

Yazidis are a Kurdish-speaking people thought to have become established around 4,750 BC.

Believing in God as creator of the world, they worship seven holy beings, chief of which is Melek Taus, the Peacock Angel.

Mainly in northern Iraq, where an estimated 300,000 Yazidi lived before the emergence of Islamic State, pockets exist in Armenia, Georgia, Turkey, Iran, and Syria.

In August 2014, IS swept into Iraq, targeting Yazidis as “mushirkin” or pagans. Thousands were slaughtered or enslaved.

Jihadis stormed Yazidi villages and killed men and boys who wouldn’t convert to Islam.

Women and children, often forced to witness the murders, were taken to Syria to be enslaved.

Paulo Pinheiro, chair of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria, said: “Genocide is ongoing. ISIS has subjected every Yazidi it captures to horrific atrocities.”