Kurdish-Swedish humanitarian Nemam Ghafouri dies from Covid-19 in Stockholm

The doctor dedicated the last years of her life to helping Yazidi victims of ISIS terrorism

Dr Nemam Ghafouri travelled to Kurdistan in 2014 and established her organisation, Joint Help for Kurdistan, shortly after to address the humanitarian crisis there. Nemam Ghafouri / Facebook
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An activist who founded an NGO to help Kurdish and Yazidi victims recover from the horrors of ISIS control died from Covid-19 in Stockholm.

Humanitarian Dr Nemam Ghafouri, 52, was described on Facebook her brother Karwan Ghafouri as “beautiful, brave, determined and joyful”.

“You came into this world amidst war, born in a cave, lived your life to the fullest like a hurricane of hope and you left this world with strength,” he wrote.

Lokman Atroshi, director general of the Swedish Specialist Hospital, also used social media to express his grief at the loss of his “dear friend”.

She “sacrificed her life, career and health for justice and to help vulnerable people of Kurdistan,” Dr Atroshi wrote on Facebook.

Sweden is in the midst of a third wave of Covid-19 infections, with cases rising sharply in recent weeks.

“The other day … I went to the cave I was born in, every time, it feels like [being] reborn again,” Dr Ghafouri wrote in one of her last posts on Facebook in March.

In a 2016 interview with Harper's Bazaar magazine the cardiothoracic surgeon spoke about being born in the cave her family was sheltering in to avoid Iraqi air forces.

Her Kurdish father, a peshmerga who was fighting Saddam Hussein’s army, eventually took the family to Iran and then to Sweden, where Dr Ghafouri studied, trained and practised medicine for decades.

Nemam Ghafouri pictured here in Qamishli, a city in north-eastern Syria with a large population of Kurds. Nemam Ghafouri / Twitter

After the emergence of ISIS in Iraq and the atrocities and humanitarian disasters that followed, the doctor left Sweden and travelled to the region to offer her medical expertise on the front line.

"I was born in the mountains during the war, so I know what it's like to be a refugee. That is why I know how to help refugees now," she told the Danish-Kurdish newspaper Jiyan in 2015.

In 2014, she set up the organisation Joint Help for Kurdistan (JHK) in response to the Sinjar massacre in the same year, which marked the beginning of the genocide of Yazidis by ISIS. During ISIS's reign of terror, thousands of women and children were enslaved and raped, and hundreds of thousands from the community became displaced.

Nemam Ghafouri in the Sinjar region in Iraq, where a massacre of Yazidis by ISIS forces took place in 2014, prompting the activist to launch her NGO, Joint Help for Kurdistan. Nemam Ghafouri / Twitter

In one of the last posts on her Facebook page, the doctor noted how little had changed in the place she was born. “The sounds of water, the smell of greens, playful kids ... all could suddenly mix with smell and sounds of napalm and the deadly silence afterwards.”

She ended her post with the ominous warning: “We have come long, yet not far enough from the same danger.”