Lamiya Hachi Bashar, whose face was severely disfigured in a land mine explosion while fleeing Islamic State enslavement, never dreamed her story of survival would inspire others.
The Yazidi woman said she was stunned after she was named Thursday as one of the recipients of the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for freedom of thought and expression.
“I am very excited that I was awarded this prize,” Bashar told VOA from Germany, where she lives as a refugee. “I hope this will help bring more attention to the suffering of our people.”
Bashar’s story gained international attention in May when Voice of America wrote about her languishing in northern Iraq without proper medical care.
Bashar and 12 members of her family were taken prisoner after IS invaded their village in 2014. Bashar, 18, said she was sold five times as a sex slave and faced mental and physical abuse. She escaped from IS in April but lost her sight in a blast from a land mine explosion during the flight. Her face was severely burned and injured.
Following the VOA report, several organizations and individuals reached out to help. A German-based aid group, Air Bridge Iraq, stepped in and resettled her in Germany, where she has since received several surgical procedures to repair her face.
Bashar has permanently lost the sight in her right eye, but vision has returned to her left. She is receiving laser therapy to heal facial wounds. Air Bridge Iraq is working with the German government to permanently settle her in the country.
“My face is recovering and I am feeling better every day,” Bashar told VOA. “I am so happy to be in Germany and I hope to go back to school as soon as possible.”
As she worked through a complex set of surgeries and learned how to adapt to life in Germany, Bashar began speaking out about her plight and that of Yazidi women.
She became an active member of a Yazidi advocacy organization called Yazidi Friendship Group and traveled across Europe to tell her story. Bashar met with government officials and humanitarian organizations pleading for support to rescue Yazidis who are in IS captivity.
“She gave a speech at the European Parliament and a lot of the attendants started crying while listening to her tragic story,” Mizra Dinnayi, head of Air Bridge Iraq, said.
In announcing the award, the European Parliament issued a statement praising Bashar for her public advocacy.
“Bashar has been active in raising awareness of the plight of the Yazidi community and continues to help women and children who were victims of IS enslavement and atrocities,” the statement said.
The Sakharov Prize comes with a 50,000-euro ($55,000) award. Bashar and Nadia Murad, who is also a Yazidi woman and the second recipient of the prize, hope to use the award money and their publicity to promote the plight of other Yazidi victims.
“I hope we can better help displaced Yazidis in camps and rescue the ones that are still under” IS control, Bashar said.