Canada reveals it resettled hundreds of Yazidi refugees who were persecuted by ISIS
Canada has quietly resettled 400 Yazidi refugees and other survivors of violence at the hands of Islamic State militants over the last four months, and will take in 800 more by the end of 2017.
Federal immigration minister Ahmed Hussen unveiled the plan during a press conference on Tuesday ahead of a self-imposed deadline to bring in members of the religious minority that has been subjected to genocide, torture, and systematic sexual enslavement perpetrated by the Islamic State since 2014. Canada is one of just a few countries to welcome the persecuted group, following the lead of Germany.
The Liberal government had previously provided few details about the plan, which will cost a reported $28 million, and comes out of a motion put forward by the Conservatives in October that called on the immigration department to resettle Yazidi women and girls who had survived enslavement. Most of the 400 people who have already arrived have come from outside of Iraq, meaning they had been living as refugees in countries such as Turkey and Lebanon. The minister said a number of the Yazidis who will be resettled later this year will come from inside northern Iraq, where many are living in camps for internally displaced people.
The announcement came as Minister Hussen is facing questions about his response to the mass influx of asylum seekers who have been illegally crossing into Canada from the U.S. He stressed that the new cohort of refugees were vetted carefully by immigration officials and that intense criminal and medical checks were performed prior to their arrival.
“Many have experienced unimaginable trauma and vulnerability, both physical and emotional, and many will have unique physical, psychological and social needs, such as trauma counselling,” said Hussen, adding that the department will focus on keeping families together, including men, although the motion referred only to Yazidi women and girls.
“Many have experienced unimaginable trauma and vulnerability.”
A resettlement worker for the department told reporters that the government had to keep its operations under wraps until now as a number of the Yazidi survivors have not even told their families about the abuses they have experienced. The victims fear that family members back home could face violent reprisals if their location was revealed. Because of these safety concerns, there won’t be any fanfare surrounding their arrival like there was when planeloads of Syrian refugees arrived in Canada in 2015 and 2016.
“They are afraid of having the label of victim placed on them,” the resettlement worker said. “We need to be careful not to do anything that might revictimize them or retraumatize them.”
Michelle Rempel, a Conservative member of Parliament who proposed the motion to resettle the Yazidis, said she was pleased by the announcement, and hopes other countries will follow suit. Rempel had been concerned over the lack of information provided by the government on its efforts to resettle Yazidis, and, like other non-government groups, did not think the government would make its deadline.
“I don’t hesitant to say that these people are probably the most vulnerable and persecuted group of people in the world right now,” she said. “The reality is that if the international community doesn’t wake up to the plight of these people, they will be wiped off the face of the earth.”
Experts on the Yazidi community have previously told VICE News that the community requires help in preserving their heritage at home, as well as preventing future atrocities being committed against them in Iraq.
Cover: A Yazidi refugee girl with her mother are seen behind a window of a hotel room in the northern Greek village of Agios Athanasios, near Thessaloniki city. Giannis Papanikos/AP