This story is over 5 years old.


Canada Is Bringing in Yazidis Who Have Been Put Through Hell By ISIS

The persecuted religious group has been massacred, displaced, or enslaved by jihadists who invaded their homeland in Iraq.

Yazidi Kurdish women chant slogans during a protest against the Islamic State group's invasion on Sinjar city in Dohuk, northern Iraq on Monday, Aug. 3, 2015. Photo via AP

Canada's Parliament unanimously approved a plan to offer asylum to persecuted Yazidi people from Iraq in less than four months. This makes Canada one of a few countries to welcome Yazidis since thousands were massacred, displaced, or enslaved by Islamic State jihadists who invaded their homeland in the Sinjar mountains two years ago.

The move follows months of pressure from Conservatives who put forward a motion that calls on the government to recognize that ISIS has committed genocide against the religious minority, and to acknowledge that Yazidi women and girls continue to be held as sex slaves by the terror group.


Nadia Murad, a 23-year-old Yazidi woman who escaped sexual enslavement and torture in Mosul by ISIS in 2014, has been in Ottawa this week to meet with politicians and observe the vote, before which the members of parliament gave her a standing ovation. This summer, she and other witnesses told a parliamentary committee about the abuse, rape, and violence that continues against Yazidis in Iraq.

Murad, who also serves as a UN Goodwill ambassador, has spent the year travelling the world urging governments to do more for her community.

"After two years of injustice, I feel that the world is standing with us and here in Canada, they stand with us," Murad told VICE News Tuesday in a phone call from Ottawa through a translator. "When these people come to Canada, there will be new hope for life and they will feel like their rights are seen and they are seen as human beings."

Read More: New Video Shows Canadian Special Forces in Action Against ISIS

While Immigration Minister John McCallum has not yet said how many Yazidis his government will usher in, he told Parliament on Monday that his department recently deployed a team to assess the Yazidi situation in the Iraq region, and emphasized that it won't be an easy task to assist those who are stuck in remote combat zones.

A spokesperson for the minister could not answer questions from VICE News by deadline on Tuesday about whether the department would be accepting Yazidis who are internally displaced within Iraq or located in third countries such as Turkey, where they may be processed as refugees by the UNHCR because they have fled their home country.


After Murad escaped her captors in November of 2014, she moved to Germany to participate in a special government-funded project to help 1,000 Yazidi women and children recover from the trauma of slavery.

France is the only other country to specifically target Yazidis for resettlement since the Islamic State rose to power, said Murad Ismael, the executive director of Yazidi rights group Yazda, who is accompanying Nadia Murad on her trip to Ottawa. Besides that, a few dozen Yazidi refugee families have been resettled across Canada and the US through the typical refugee channels. This includes nine Yazidis who came to Canada over the last year, as the country took the unprecedented step of expediting the refugee process for more than 30,000 Syrians.

However, it will be difficult for Canadian immigration officials to bring Yazidis in who are internally displaced, and not refugees processed by the UNHCR, according to Michelle Rempel, the Conservative MP from Calgary who brought the motion forward.

"There are diplomatic concerns you need to look at in terms of going into a country and removing people," Rempel acknowledged. But, she added that Canadian immigration officials do have legislative tools at their disposal to make it happen.

For Matthew Barber, a PhD student at the University of Chicago who has worked extensively with Yazidis in Iraq, told VICE News that while he applauds Canada's decision to resettle Yazidis, he says more needs to be done to help preserve their heritage, and prevent future atrocities in Iraq. And, the issue of resettlement abroad is a point of tension among Yazidis.

"The risks of migration are that the numbers of an already vulnerable minority could further dwindle within their country, jeopardizing the survival of this unique culture and religion," Barber wrote in an email. "Many want to stay within their country and reclaim their homeland, while others want to leave, motivated by security concerns and the lack of progress in resolving the displacement crisis … Yazidis who leave Iraq do so out of desperation, not because they prefer to abandon their homeland."

The Liberal government's response to the Yazidi crisis has taken a number of turns. In June, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Foreign Affairs minister Stephane Dion rebuffed calls from the Conservatives to call what's happened to the Yazidi people a genocide. But they changed their mind just after the United Nations released a report detailing how Islamic State militants have sought to "erase" Yazidi identity in ways that meet the definition of genocide under international law.

Follow Rachel Browne on Twitter.