Canada asks Germany for advice on Yazidi refugees
Monday, November 28, 2016

With the clock ticking on a parliamentary deadline to bring to Canada an undetermined number of Yazidi refugees within the next 120 days, Canadian immigration officials have turned to their German colleagues for advice.

Over the past two years, Germany has accepted about 1,000 Yazidi refugees. But it’s not clear what Canada can learn from the German experience.

The majority of Yazidi refugees showed up on Germany’s doorstep along with more than a million of Syrian, Iraqi and Afghan asylum seekers that crashed Europe’s gates in search of a safe haven, German officials said.

German Ambassador to Canada Werner Wnendt told RCI he has held informal discussions with Canadian officials at various ministries and the Parliament.

But Wnendt said he is not aware of any formal requests for assistance or information exchanges received by his government in connection with the Yazidi refugee issue.

In any case, unlike the Canadian parliament, which voted unanimously on a Conservative Party motion to provide assistance and offer asylum to survivors of the genocide perpetrated by ISIS against the Yazidi religious minority in northern Iraq and Syria, Germany never singled out any specific groups for relocation, Wnendt said.

“We have no particular group of refugees that we prefer or have preferred access,” Wnendt said. “But we’re well aware, of course, that in the case of the Yazidi women and the Yazide people they are persecuted in a way that is a tragedy and many call it a genocide.”

The Yazidis are a Kurdish-speaking religious minority spread across northern Iraq and Syria, southeastern Turkey and Armenia. Their religion, which combines elements of Zoroastrian, Christian and Muslim beliefs, has made them targets of religious discrimination and persecution for centuries.

Denounced as infidels and devil-worshippers, the Yazidis in northern Iraq have been targeted by ISIS militants over the last two years. Thousands of Yazidi men were killed, while thousands of women and girls were carried off, bought and sold in slave markets, forced into sexual slavery, when ISIS forces overran their ancient homeland in the Sinjar province in northern Iraq in 2014.

Germany has seen a growing number religious minorities from Iraq and Syria, including Yazidis, claiming asylum in Germany, but they get to Germany on their own, Wnendt said.

“We have had no airlift, if you like, with which we brought these people directly from where there are,” Wnendt said. “We did not fly them in.”

That’s a key difference between Canada’s plan and Germany’s experience.

However, citing operational security Canadian officials are refusing to share more information on the Canadian plan or consultations with other governments to bring in Yazidi refugees as mandated by the House of Commons.

“We’ve made a commitment to resettle vulnerable persons who have been victims of Daesh, and we are working towards meeting that commitment,” said Lisa Filipps, a spokesperson for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, referring to ISIS with its Arabic acronym.

“As previously indicated, we recognize that operating in the region is complex and could pose risks. As a result, it is imperative that we consider the next steps very carefully.”

The Canadian plan to bring in Yazidi refugees could also run into opposition from Yazidi groups in Northern Iraq, who fear that mass relocation will further weaken the vulnerable community, and from Kurdish authorities.

The office of Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani issued a strongly worded statement last week, the same day Canadian MPs convened on Parliament Hill to hear testimony from German officials who organized that country’s efforts to rescue Yazidi survivors of the genocide taking place in north Iraq.

“Yazidis are indigenous minority and [the Kurdish regional government] is against any organized attempt to mass migrate members of its community,” said the statement released to CBC News by a spokeswoman for Barzani.

“Prime Minister Barzani thinks the aid and support should be delivered to them in their country.”

With files from Murray Brewster of CBC News

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Source: Radio Canada International / Levon Sevunts

Photo: Canadian officials are working on a plan to bring in members of the persecuted Yazidi group to Canada.
Photo Credit: Rodi Said / Reuters