After fleeing persecution in Iraq because of their Yazidi religion, Ismail, Salam and Jason Noah are creating art to help refugees and other displaced persons through donating to UNHCR.
Now based in France, the sibling trio use their art as a powerful outlet through which to advocate for families forced to flee their homes. Ismail, Salam and Jason tell us why they are proud to collectively say “#IAmAnAdvocate” for displaced persons worldwide, and how their experience as refugees shapes their work.
Why did you flee your home country and what was your experience like as refugee?
We used to live with our family in Iraq. On Aug. 3, 2014, ISIS attacked Shingal City and all the nearby villages where our Yazidi people were living. On that day, thousands of Yazidis went to the top of Shingal Mountain, a 72-kilometre-long mountain range near the Yazidi villages. They stayed there days without food and water
As many Yazidi families became hopeless, we tried to leave. A smuggler asked for $3,500 for each person to get out of Iraq, so we had to sell him our house. He promised he could get us to Serbia, where there were organizations helping people.
On Feb. 9, 2015, we fled from our home to Turkey. After one day of rest, the smuggler sent 89 people together in one bus from Istanbul to Edirne, near Turkey’s border with Greece and Bulgaria. Then they asked us to walk through the forest without any light. Each of us held a personal bag, some carried babies too.
After 30 minutes, the leaders told us that it will be more than five hours, walking on mountains and crossing rivers. They told us that the weather was freezing and that most of the babies will not make it.
After some discussion, we decided that we would not try that risk. The smugglers decided to run away and hide.
We made three fires to warm us, but the rain kept putting them out. After suffering for five hours, a group walked to a nearby road and stopped a car. The driver called three buses for us and we all started running to the buses to survive.
The bus took us back to Istanbul, which was four hours away. After trying six times to get into Bulgaria and failing, we decided to go to Greece by boat. It took three tries. During our first attempt to cross, we got to the middle of the sea and then the boat driver turned us back because of the police. The next time, the motor of our boat broke so we had to come back. And on the third time, we successfully reached Lesbos Island.
Three days later, we heard that the Greek border with Turkey closed. We spent one week on the island and then we went to the port for two days. Then they put my entire family on a bus and we went to Ritsona camp in Greece. Jason lived with his family there, while Salam and Ismail lived there about one year. We started helping, translating in the camp, going with refugees to hospitals, calling ambulances and doing all that we could and stay strong.
What was your family’s experience arriving in a new country as a refugee?
After a very long journey, we were accepted by France as refugees. We were so happy, and for the first time felt that we were safe. We have had some little challenges about the new language and culture, but it’s OK compared to all that we have been through. We continue to paint and we had many exhibitions in different countries as we try to show love and peace through our art.
What inspired you to act and advocate for refugees?
While being in Greece living in refugee camps, we had to help. We know different languages, Kurdish, Arabic and English and that was so helpful when translating. We also played music and painted in the camp to show them not to give up and stay positive.
When we saw humanitarian organizations, we saw many volunteers who helped us a lot because we were in a very bad situation. So many needed someone to talk or listen to, so we knew how important is to help refugees.
Here in France, we continue to support and help as much as we can and we will always do that. Refugees or homeless or displaced people… we all are same and we need to help each other. That’s why we are human.
What is the importance of bringing refugees issues to the forefront of the conversation, in your country and around the world?
It’s so important to show people that (refugees) are the same as anyone else. They get forced to leave their countries because they were in danger and it wasn’t a choice – it’s life or death.
Visit the trio’s website, Brotherly Art, to see more of Jason, Ismail and Salam’s work.
Add your name to the #IAmAnAdvocate pledge and join the UNHCR in sending send a clear message: everyone counts, and there is no place for xenophobia and racism in our world.