National Post Barbara Kay: Who protects the Yazidi?


National Post - Wednesday February 17th, 2016

AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images
A displaced Iraqi child from the Yazidi community holds a juice after crossing the Syrian-Iraqi border at the Fishkhabur crossing, in northern Iraq, on August 13, 2014.

My synagogue is sponsoring four refugee families from Syria. Three are Muslim, one is Christian. None are Yazidis. As glad as I am to be helping those in need, I regret that we weren’t able to help any Yazidis — and I suspect they’d have found a welcome reception at my synagogue.

I feel a strong Jewish vibe in the Yazidis’ situation. Like the Jews, they are an ancient people with their roots in Mesopotamia. Like the Jews, they are few in number — perhaps a million in total (the Jews number about 14 million) — and as well, like the Jews, they have suffered greatly for their monotheistic faith.

The plight of displaced Syrians is certainly distressing, and life in a refugee camp is no picnic. But, although people often confuse the two groups, refugees are not immigrants. Immigrants actively choose to resettle elsewhere, so it doesn’t matter if it is far from their homeland. Refugees consider their dislocation temporary, and prefer to stay close to the homes they anticipate returning to (a surprising number of Syrian refugees either refused or had to be coaxed to come here).

Syrian Muslims in refugee camps have something precious that displaced Christians and Yazidis do not: they have hope that they can return one day to their homes, a good reason why, despite their rigours, refugee camps near their homes are the best place for them.

By contrast, following recent pogroms and massacres, about 500,000 Yazidis have been displaced in Arab lands, and they will likely never return to their ancestral homes in Syria or Iraq. Their situation is a poignant reminder that between 1948-70, more than 800,000 Jews were ethnically cleansed from Arab countries, and they too never went back home. Happily, Israel was there for them. But the Yazidi will be stateless if they do not find permanent new homes. 

Christians and Yazidis must therefore attract private sponsorship

Like the Jews, the Yazidis also suffered a genocide, when Turkey slaughtered about 350,000 Yazidis along with the Armenians 1914-18. (Proportionately the Yazidis’ loss is equivalent to the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust.) As well, like the Jews, the Yazidis do not proselytize, and ask only to live in peace with their neighbours. Until the rise of Islamism, that was possible. Now their neighbours call them “devil worshippers” and “infidels,” worthy of death by holy war. Thousands of Yazidi men have been murdered, and thousands of Yazidi women taken as sex slaves.

As Geoffrey Clarfield, executive director of the new human rights NGO, Mozuud.org, reported in these pages last March, the Yazidis should not be thought of as helpless victims. Scores of Yazidi men and women risked their lives to act as translators for the coalition forces during the second Gulf War. They were essential partners and the West owes them.

The relatively few Yazidi refugees who have made it to Canada are understandably traumatized, with neither money nor power to mount an effective campaign for their ethnic brethren abroad. To date, of the 400,000 displaced, Brantford, Ont., Yazidi advocate Lili Charoeva tells me that Canada has brought over three families. Community representatives have written to Immigration minister John McCallum, pleading for a meeting, to no avail. They received only a mantra-strewn letter from a bureaucrat in November, boasting of the government’s humanitarian intentions toward persecuted minorities — “One of our areas of focus are those who are at risk because they belong to a religious or ethnic minority” — but offering no details on how they mean to fulfill that intention.

I spoke with Mirza Ismail of Brampton, leader of the Yazidi Human Rights Organization. He told me the Yazidis have been offered “no political support in Canada,” and that includes the previous government. Mirza says he met with Jason Kenney and Chris Alexander last year, and they promised that if they were re-elected, they would prioritize minorities like Christians and Yazidis as well as Muslim minority groups like the Druze and Kurds. But the reality is that they could have set a plan in motion to seek Christians and Yazidis out for fast-tracking in 2014 and didn’t.

What is particularly galling is that both Stephen Harper and Justin Trudeau are well aware of the fact that the refugee camps from which the UNHCR, on whom the government relies for triage in its selections, are shunned by Christians and Yazidis out of fear of the Islamists within them. Instead, they seek shelter in Jordan and Lebanon. Apparently, out of sight has put them out of our government’s mind.

Christians and Yazidis must therefore attract private sponsorship. There are millions of Christians here, and obviously far more Christian groups advocating and fund-raising for their co-religionists than Yazidis for theirs. And that is another reason that I feel particularly sympathetic to them. And hope other Canadians will too. The “Abraham Project” is trying to raise $70,000 over the next two months to help save the Yazidis from genocide. Donations can be made at gogetfunding.com/save-yazidis-from-genocide/.

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