Mirza Ismail married Nofa Abdi in Sinjar just three months before the Islamic State assault. He returned to Toronto while she awaited her Canadian visa to join him.
Ismail now heads the Yezidi Human Rights Organization-International, and is frustrated by what he says is the Liberal government’s failure to put the plight of the Yazidis — still under threat in Iraq — at the forefront of its new refugee agenda.
“We have tried to get an appointment with (Refugee Minister John) McCallum, but no one has agreed,” he says.
In an email to the Toronto Star, the department said that Canada is “well positioned” to protect vulnerable people in the region. However, “we rely on the United Nations Refugee Agency and private sponsors to identify refugees for resettlement.” It added that Canada “does not track resettled refugees by religious or ethnic composition.”
The UNHCR emailed that “we are submitting Yazidi women from Iraq for resettlement from Turkey,” but that “it is really for (Canada) to say if they are considering taking Iraqi Yazidis from Turkey as part of their resettlement program.”
There are at least 15,000 in Turkey who would qualify as refugees. And although the more than 400,000 in Iraq are internally displaced from Sinjar and other locations, Ottawa could follow the example of Germany, which issued visas to 1,000 “most vulnerable” Iraqis, including the Yazidi girls and women who escaped Islamic State captivity.
In Toronto, the Catholic Archdiocese is working with groups trying to sponsor Yazidi refugees. And some may soon reach Winnipeg thanks to help from the local Jewish community.
Bob Freedman, retired CEO of the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg, says the federation has raised $200,000 to sponsor Yazidi families.
“The Yazidis have no homes to go back to, and they pose no security risk,” says Freedman. “They are just being slaughtered.”