‘Our people have been suffering’: Vulnerable Yazidis urge Canada for aid
Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Canada should resettle thousands of Yazidis and lead a referral of the Islamic State’s genocide against the religious minority to the International Criminal Court (ICC), the opposition and Yazidi groups say.

In emotional testimony to the House of Commons immigration committee on Tuesday, a Yazidi woman who survived the Islamic State attack on Iraq’s Sinjar mountain in August, 2014, said the world has remained silent as her people suffer in what the United Nations has called genocide. Nadia Murad Basee Taha and fellow advocates asked Canada to create a special resettlement program for Yazidis, as Germany has.

“I am very grateful to Germany, for example, who received some refugees and also who opened its borders for the Yazidis to flee,” Ms. Taha said through an interpreter. She is one of 1,100 Yazidi women and girls who recently resettled in Germany.

“I would like … Canada to help with the immigration and with the asylum processes. Our people have been suffering for the past two years and they must be helped.”

Yazidis are a Kurdish minority group that practice an ancient faith. Because most of them have been unable to leave their home country of Iraq, the United Nations does not consider them refugees for resettlement in countries such as Canada. However, they face persecution by the Islamic State, which deems them “infidels,” according to Ms. Taha.

“They forced us to change our religion. They raped us. They sold us. … And this continues today,” she said, recollecting her village’s capture by the Islamic State nearly two years ago.

Advocates said they would like Canada to welcome 5,000 to 10,000 of the most vulnerable Yazidis, including those in refugee camps across the Middle East. To do so, they said Canada will have to stop relying on the UN refugee agency, known as the UNHCR, for Yazidi referrals. Mirza Ismail, chairman of the Yezidi Human Rights Organization International, told the committee most of the staff at the UNHCR in Turkey and Syria “blatantly discriminate” against Yazidis, telling them they will have to wait until 2022 just for an interview with the agency to begin the process for resettlement in another country.

The Conservatives and NDP say they support the call to resettle 5,000 to 10,000 Yazidis, in addition to the government’s plans to welcome between 2,800 and 3,600 newcomers for humanitarian and compassionate reasons this year. The Tories are specifically pushing the government to lift the cap on privately sponsored refugees from Iraq, as that is where most Yazidis live.

It is unclear exactly how many Yazidis have resettled in Canada since the 2014 Sinjar massacre by the Islamic State. The government said it does not track cases based on race, religion, sexual orientation or ethnicity. However, Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel said in June that Canada has processed only nine Yazidi cases.

Ms. Taha’s powerful testimony was heard at a special summer meeting of the committee this week. During Parliament’s last sitting, Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel tabled a motion asking the committee to study accelerated resettlement efforts for Yazidis. The committee agreed to the study, but broadened its scope to examine immigration measures for vulnerable groups in general.

While the government acknowledged “the compelling nature of the claims of Yazidi women and girls,” it would not commit to a special resettlement program for the minority group. However, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada said it is putting plans in place to process refugee cases out of northern Iraq.

The Yazidi groups also said on Tuesday that Canada should take the lead in referring the Islamic State’s genocide against the religious minority in Syria and Iraq to the ICC. Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion’s office said Canada has written to the UN Security Council to press for a court referral. However, it says the Security Council must make the decision, likely in the form of a resolution.

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Source: The Globe and Mail / Michelle Zilio