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The Liberal government is set to unveil its resettlement plan for Yazidi victims of ISIS, but as a one-week deadline looms, the federal program has not yet brought in a single survivor.
On Oct. 25, MPs unanimously adopted a Conservative motion to formally declare ISIS persecution of Yazidis a genocide and promised to bring refugees fleeing the violence to Canada within four months.
With the days counting down, critics have little hope the federal government will deliver on that pledge in a significant way.
‘They’ve had four months. They’ve brought none in to date.’ – Conservative MP Michelle Rempel
?Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel understands the logistical challenges with the operation, but said the government is not moving with the same urgency as it did with the Syrian refugees.
“They’ve had four months. They’ve brought none in to date,” she said.
The Yazidis are a religious minority with a 6,000-year-old culture. They’re based mainly in northern Iraq.
?Rempel expects the government will likely bring in a small number of UN-designated refugees who’ve been staying in camps, rather than the most vulnerable victims trapped in northern Iraq. A small number of privately sponsored Yazidis have already resettled in Canada.
Many of the Yazidi women and girls have been victims of sexual violence, according to human rights groups like Human Rights Watch. Because of the trauma they’ve endured, they will require highly specialized medical treatment and other services.
But Rempel says she has been in touch with organizations based in the region, as well as community and support groups in Canada that are in the dark about when the women will arrive, how many to expect and where they will be located.
“The fact that there hasn’t been any noise in the broader community on this tells me that we’re set for disappointment next week,” Rempel said. “I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t think it’s going to be anything near the Syrian refugee initiative. The fact we haven’t brought anybody in in four months is really disappointing.”
Rempel hoped the government would present a detailed plan with targets and timelines when MPs returned in January after the Christmas break. But to date, no information has been made public.
She pressed Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Ahmed Hussen again this week, asking him in the House of Commons why “zero” Yazidis have been brought to Canada so far. She said she worried there will be a “broken promise that will cost lives.”
Without providing details, Hussen said the government remains “fully committed” to meeting the goal of the motion.
“We have an operation that is already underway. I will be providing details in the near future,” he said.
NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan is alarmed by the apparent lack of action given the plight of the Yazidis was raised as an “urgent” issue during special parliamentary hearings last summer.
“So far, we have not seen one Yazidi brought over for resettlement, and I cannot tell you how disturbing that is,” Kwan said.
During committee hearings, officials from various departments conceded there were risks associated with the operation, but said they could be mitigated, Kwan said. The officials demonstrated they were ready, willing and able to mobilize and begin the process of bringing Yazidis to Canada, but were waiting for specific directives from the government.
Instead of acting with urgency, Kwan said the government is treating it like a “work in progress.”
“To this day, we still don’t know. What exactly has the government been doing, and what are we waiting for?” she asked.
“If the government wanted to do it, it could do it,” Kwan said. “We are talking about a people facing genocide. This puts it at a different level when you have a group of people being targeted to be wiped out.”
Germany was the first country to launch a special program to help vulnerable women and girls who have been victims of ISIS — most of them Yazidis but some of them Christians and other religious minorities. It brought in 1,100 people between March 2015 and January 2016.
By most measures, the Special Quota Project has been a success, but the pilot program was initially met with much resistance and criticism from local governments, aid groups and the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR.