President Donald Trump’s meet-and-greet with a group of refugees who faced religious persecution quickly turned awkward when Trump asked a Yazidi woman where her family was moments after she had told them they were murdered by the Islamic State.
Just before Trump posed the question, the woman, Nadia Murad, a human rights activist who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2018, told the president how ISIS attacked her village, killed her mother and brothers, then took her and other women in her family as prisoners.
“Now there’s no ISIS, but we cannot go back [home] because the Kurdish government and the Iraqi government, they are fighting each other [over] who will control my area,” Murad told the president. “They killed my mom, my six brothers.”
“Where are they now,” Trump asked, cutting Murad off mid-sentence.
“They killed them,” she reminded him. “They are in the mass graves in Sinjar. And I’m still fighting just to live safe. Please do something.”
“I know the area very well you’re talking about,” Trump said, adding, “We’re going to look into it very strongly.”
Murad was among 27 other survivors of religious persecution who met Trump at the White House on Wednesday to promote an international effort to protect religious freedom.
Murad, who, like many other Yazidi women, was raped and beaten by ISIS members before escaping, became the first woman from Iraq to win the Nobel Peace Prize for her activism fighting against abuse and sexual violence. Drawing from her own experiences, she raises awareness around the world about how sex trafficking is used as a weapon of war.
Murad begged Trump to put pressure on the Kurdish and Iraqi governments to protect the Yazidi religious minority as they fight for control over land in the Middle East.
After her plea, Murad backed away from Trump as he asked her about her Nobel Prize.
“That’s incredible,” he told her. “They gave it to you for what reason?”
“For what reason? After all that has happened to me, I didn’t give up,” she replied. “I make it clear to everyone that ISIS raped thousands of Yazidi woman.”
Murad also said that she was the first woman to have escaped ISIS in Iraq and speak publicly about the horror she faced. Murad’s autobiography, “The Last Girl: My Story of Captivity, And My Fight Against the Islamic State,” was published in 2017.
“Oh, really? It’s the first time,” Trump told her. “So you escaped.”
“I escaped, but I don’t have my freedom yet,” Murad replied.
Some people criticized Trump’s behavior toward Murad, claiming he seemed uninterested in the horrors she and the Yazidis face and more focused on her Nobel Peace Prize.
The other survivors who spoke to Trump included a woman who was kidnapped by Boko Haram in Nigeria, a Holocaust survivor, a North Korean man whose family was executed because they were Christian and a Muslim man who survived the deadly shooting at a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand.
Some survivors thanked Trump for his support while others pleaded for him to save their communities from religious persecution and help their people return home.
When Murad told Trump that her sister-in-law, who was kidnapped by ISIS along with her niece and nephew, called her from Syria three years ago but now are missing, the president said he’d look into it.
“Let me look. We’re going to look, OK?” Trump said. “Thank you very much.”