When President Trump this week met human rights activist Nadia Murad, an Iraqi who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2018 for speaking out about her agonizing torture and rape while in Islamic State captivity, he seemed unaware of her story and the plight of her Yazidi ethnic minority.
For several minutes in the Oval Office on Wednesday, Murad stood beside a seated Trump, who mostly avoided eye contact with Murad, and implored the president to help her community return to Iraq. She explained that the Islamic State, or ISIS, may be gone but that Iraqis and Kurds are fighting for control over Yazidi lands.
“If I cannot go to my home and live in a safe place and get my dignity back, this is not about ISIS,” she said, her voice breaking. “It’s about I’m in danger. My people cannot go back.”
Murad, who lives in Germany, told Trump that she never wanted to be a refugee but that ISIS murdered her mother and six brothers.
“Where are they now?” Trump asked.
“They killed them,” she repeated. “They are in the mass grave in Sinjar, and I’m still fighting just to live in safety.”
“I know the area very well that you’re talking about,” Trump responded.
Trump’s meeting — which drew widespread criticism because of its awkward moments — included nearly two dozen foreigners who, like Murad, had suffered religious persecution in their home countries. They included a Jewish Holocaust survivor, a Tibetan from China and a Rohingya Muslim from Myanmar.
Trump told Murad he would look into it “very strongly.” As she started to back away, Trump said: “And you had the Nobel Prize. That’s incredible. They gave it to you for what reason?”
“For what reason?” Murad replied. “For, after all this happened to me, I didn’t give up. I made it clear to everyone that ISIS raped thousands of Yazidi women.” She told him she was the first woman to get out and speak publicly about what was happening.
“Oh, really, is that right?” Trump said, his voice notably more upbeat. “So you escaped.”
“I escaped, but I don’t have my freedom yet,” she said.
Trump has said that he deserves the Nobel Peace Prize for his work on Syria and North Korea and has lamented that President Barack Obama received the honor during his first year in office.
In the same meeting, the president also seemed not to know that Rohingya refugees had fled violence in Myanmar, also known as Burma. In a confusing exchange, a Rohingya man, Mohib Ullah, told Trump that his people wanted to “go back home as quickly as possible” — an apparent reference to western Myanmar — and asked the president what the plan was to help them.
“And where is that, exactly?” the president asked.
“Bangladesh refugee camp,” Mohib Ullah answered, referring to where thousands of Rohingya have fled to escape persecution by security forces in Myanmar.
Sam Brownback, a former Republican governor of Kansas who is now U.S. ambassador at large for international religious freedom, interjected, “That is right next to Burma.”
“I see,” Trump said.
Before a military crackdown that began in 2015 and intensified two years later, an estimated 1 million Rohingya people lived in Rakhine state, on Myanmar’s western coast. Hundreds of thousands have since fled to neighboring Bangladesh, where they have been living in squalid camps in the southeastern part of that country.