In this forum

News articles will be collected on the realities of the Yazidi living in Canada. Our struggle is to focus the attention of the government on providing humane supports to the persecuted women and children who have survived genocide, enslavement and torture.

This small, new refugee community must be helped, their suffering must be addressed. By intervening now rather than later there is greater possibility of assisting them to heal their traumas and enable them to adapt to Canada.

Women Refugees Advocacy Group (WRAP)

Formerly the BC Working Group for Yazidi Women and Girls, WRAP is circulating a petition to call on the Canadian government to provide the victims of ISIS/Daesh with comprehensive trauma care. For more details see their petition (below).

A successful, humane and culturally sensitive model of care has been created in Germany by Kizilhan, a German-Kurd psychologist with Yazidi roots. This model can be a shining light for the world.

In Canada

There is a need to respond to the increasing viciousness of war and the extremes of violence directed against women and girls around the world. Consider the Rohingya women raped and displaced by Myanmar monks, the murderous cartels in Mexico and South America, the violence, rape and murder of women and girls by the militia men in the Congo, the enslavement and rape of girls in Africa by Boko Haram. These and other, extreme hate-filled manifestations of patriarchy are causing suffering to women and children on an unimaginable scale.

When women and children such as these come to Canada for refuge, or to any compassionate country, we must welcome them with a new model of care that meets their extreme needs for trauma care.

We have a women's movement that, over the last fifty years, has worked to meet the needs of women, working to end violence against women, by giving birth to women's centres, transition houses, rape crisis centres, women's self defense, freedom of choice, women's memorial marches and public art, and so much more. Now, while our organizations everywhere are starved for funding and our creative energies are drawn into continuous fundraising, a new model of response is required.

Everyone is needed

All levels of government, feminists, psychologists, counsellors, refugee advocates and people everywhere are required to create a new model of care.

Feminist thought is an essential component because, when it comes to rape and other forms of female victimization, feminists do not blame the victim. We know that women and girls did not bring this violence on themselves and are in no way responsible. Only the perpetrators are responsible for the act of murder, battering, rape, enslavement and other forms of torture. This understanding is key to healing.

Yazidi resettlement in Canada: Final Report published Feb 14, 2019


WRAP website:

Kizilhan model:

Road to Recovery: Resettlement Issues is a parliamentary report and does not reflect what the government is actually doing to support the Yazidi. It is, however, useful to identify issues and barriers they face:

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'Above politics': MPs vote unanimously to bring Yazidi refugees to Canada in 4 months
Immigration Minister John McCallum says no set target or time frame in place yet
Kathleen Harris · CBC News · Posted: Oct 25, 2016

(Displaced people from the minority Yazidi sect, fleeing violence from forces loyal to the Islamic State in Sinjar town, walk towards the Syrian border in August 2014. (Rodi Said/Reuters))

MPs have unanimously supported a Conservative motion that formally declares ISIS persecution of Yazidis a genocide and pledges to bring refugees fleeing the violence to Canada within four months.

After the vote, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister John McCallum said he was pleased that all parties in the House of Commons could rise "above politics" on the issue.

"At a time when the world is so divided on the question of immigration and refugees, I think it is wonderful as a Canadian that while we different parties have different views on many things, we share the view that it is right to welcome the vulnerable people to our country," he said.

McCallum said the government is still working on a concrete plan to meet a 120-day target, and would not offer an estimate of how many Yazidis could be brought to Canada.

Earlier in the day, he said most Yazidi refugees are in Iraq, Greece and Turkey. Bringing them to Canada from each area has its own set of challenges and pros and cons.

Yazidis 'abandoned'

Conservative Immigration critic Michelle Rempel said over the last year, Yazidi women have been "abandoned." She called on the government to set specific quotas and to work with the international community to establish "safe zones" for Yazidis facing persecution within refugee camps.

"I am heartened by this development today, but the government's actions in the days and months to come will be the true measure of the success of this motion," she said.

Earlier in the day, Rempel and interim Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose held a news conference on Parliament Hill, calling on the government to make Yazidis a top priority in the asylum claim process.

Ambrose said Canada has the resources and the authority to act fast.

"We're talking about a thousand people, maybe more," she said. "But if you compare that to the 30,000 refugees we brought in … we have the capacity to do this, and hopefully after tonight's vote we will have the will to do it by the government."

Ambrose said because many of the Yazidi women and girls have been victims of sexual violence, Canada must also ensure the refugees receive proper counselling and medical treatment once they arrive.

While the Conservative motion calls for action within 120 days, Rempel said four months is frankly too long.

'Bureaucratic inertia'

"This should have happened a long time ago," she said. "I think it's an embarrassment to our country that the government hasn't acted yet on this. There's really no reason why Yazidis should not be in Canada as part of our refugee program. It's embarrassing. We can not let bureaucracy and bureaucratic inertia be the reason we can't help genocide victims."

Nadia Murad Basee Taha, who was abducted and held as an ISIS sex slave, attended both news conferences and thanked Canada on behalf of victims who will be given protection in Canada.

"They will have a new life where they will have rights, where they will have safety, where they will have a different life than in the hands of ISIS," she said through a translator.

The Opposition motion, tabled by Rempel, called on the House of Commons to:

- Recognize that ISIS is committing genocide against the Yazidi people.

- Acknowledge that many Yazidi women and girls are still being held captive by ISIS as sexual slaves.

- Support the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Syria report and take immediate action on key recommendations.

- Provide asylum to Yazidi women and girls within 120 days.

The Yazidis are a religious minority with an ancient 6,000-year-old culture and are based mainly in northern Iraq.

Brutal attacks

ISIS launched brutal attacks targeting the Yazidi community in August 2014.

In June, a United Nations report said ISIS was seeking to destroy the community of 400,000 people through killings, sexual slavery and other crimes.

That report said the militants had been systematically rounding up Yazidis, seeking to "erase their identity," a finding that meets the definition of genocide under the 1948 UN Convention on Genocide.

Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion subsequently declared that genocide was underway.

'I know the Yazidis are going through hell': ISIS survivors in Canada plead for help for family left behind
Yazidi survivors of ISIS struggle to find peace in Canada
CBC Radio · June 20, 2018

ISIS survivors — who have escaped to safety in Canada — say they cannot find peace while their families remain in the clutches of Islamic militants.

Basema, a Yazidi woman who escaped ISIS in 2017 and now lives in Toronto, said she received news that relatives of hers were among those buried in a mass grave in Kojo, Iraq. CBC Radio has agreed to disclose only her first name for safety and privacy reasons.

"Every Yazidi village has a mass grave," she said in The Current's documentary So They Can Rest A Little.

One of her relatives told her, "with his own hands, he uncovered Nader, Azeez, Jamal, my cousin and my dad's cousin. He said they were still in their clothes. He saw their pants and their shirts."

"My husband, my uncles, all killed."

Basema wears this necklace every day. The pendant is the name of her village, Kojo, Iraq. (Pacinthe Mattar/CBC)

The Yazidis are a Kurdish-speaking, religious minority in Iraq, whose ancient monotheistic faith borrows from many others, including Christianity and Islam.

Last year, the federal government pledged to resettle 1,200 ISIS survivors in Canada, with an emphasis on Yazidi families, but missed their deadline. Many of those who did escape, like Basema, were forced to leave family behind.

"I came to Canada, to safety, but I'm not at peace," Basema said.

"I don't sleep," she said, because "I know the Yazidis are going through hell."

In August 2014, ISIS trucks drove into Yazidi villages in northern Iraq, with the aim of wiping out a people they refer to as "kafir" a derogatory term for "unbelievers." Within days, thousands of men had been killed, with women and girls sold into sexual slavery and boys taken as child soldiers.

The day ISIS came

Basema's son Hazal remembers the day the ISIS trucks rolled into their village.

The 15-year-old boy said the militants separated the men from the women and children.

"Then they took the men in cars… we don't know where, but somewhere in the village.

"We heard guns. And those of us who spoke Arabic, we asked them: 'What is the sound of the gunfire? What's that shooting?'

"They said: 'We're killing dogs.'"

Hazal was taken away from his family to train as a child soldier for ISIS. Now 15, he shows pictures of the boys he was kept at the camp with. (Pacinthe Mattar/CBC)

Basema had been separated from Hazal. At 11, ISIS took him to train as a child soldier in Hama, Syria, she said.

"They trained us to use weapons," Hazal said. "They made us watch videos on how to mount attacks, how to hide if planes were flying over head."

The militants made him watch a video of two boys going through with a suicide attack.

"I was terrified when they told me to wear a suicide belt. I cried and said, 'Where are my parents?'"

"They said: 'Just go blow yourself up.'"

Women 'didn't bathe' to repel rapists

In the village of Tel Kassap, a young woman named Adiba was facing horrors of her own. After they took the men away, the fighters gave the women a stark demand.

"They said: 'You have to be Muslim — all Yazidis must convert.'"

The women refused. In response, the fighters beat them, forced them to pray, and raped them.

"We said no matter what you do to us, we won't change our religion."

The Current

She carved his name into her skin

Hadiya, a Yazidi woman who escaped ISIS, gave herself a tattoo in memory of her husband.

Adiba was forced into sexual slavery, bought and sold between the fighters. In Mosul, she said, they took pictures of women and girls and displayed them in public. Men would choose, based on the photographs.

"It was a marketplace for girls, young girls," she said, adding that some were as young as eight and nine. She said that today, in ISIS-controlled territory, this is still happening.

"It's been four years that Yazidis have been going through this. Why is the world, why is humanity not listening?"

Basema was suffering the same ordeal. She was in ISIS custody for two years and five months, she said.

She saw ISIS generals buy up to 10 girls at once.

"They'd say: you, you, and you… like cattle," she said.

"Yazidi women would try to turn the men off in any way… I didn't bathe for two months… two months.

"I wanted to smell terrible. I said, 'Let me smell as bad as I can, so they don't rape me.'"

The Current

'Even if I get caught, getting killed is better than this'

Basema, a Yazidi woman, describes her escape from ISIS in 2017.

Survivor's guilt

Mavis Himes, a psychologist and psychoanalyst, said nothing in her 40 years of experience could have prepared her for the work she does with survivors in Toronto.

One of the psychological barriers they face, she said, is knowing that they have escaped when others haven't.

"I know, for example, one woman whose last contact with her 15-year-old daughter was seeing them torture her daughter as she separated," Himes told Tremonti. "Her daughter is still under the hands of ISIS."

"She cannot rest, she cannot rest knowing what she's been through, and what her daughter is probably still going through."

What can Canada do?

Majed El Shafie, the president and founder of Toronto-based non-profit One Free World International, said the government could do more, both for those still under ISIS rule, and those new to Canada.

He said that once the women arrived, a lack of support services meant they were "thrown under the bus."

"There were many services — like finding [a home], how to go to the grocery store, how to take a bus — there were many services not really provided to them, and we had to step forward to fill the gap," he told The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

There are still 3,200 Yazidi living under ISIS control, according to El Shafie.

In a statement to The Current, the Department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada said the government has "provided a new home to over 1,300 women and their families who endured the brutality of [ISIS], 85% of whom are Yazidi." It also noted that the government has "increased funding for settlement services in every province and territory across Canada, totalling more than $1 billion."

A picture of Basema's niece hangs on the wall of their Toronto home. She is still in ISIS captivity. (Pacinthe Mattar/CBC)Adiba wants the world to help "get these girls back from this torture, from this fiery hell."

"I want them to bring our Yazidi girls here. They need to be here, so they can rest a little."

Yazidi refugees facing barriers in Canada
By Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press, Apr 06, 2018

OTTAWA — Yazidi refugees brought to Canada after surviving rape and torture in Iraq are facing barriers accessing mental health and other settlement services in their own language, a House of Commons committee has found.

The immigration committee delivered its report last week after studying resettlement issues faced by Yazidi women and children.

Those who have come through the government-assisted refugee program are running into roadblocks trying to access affordable housing, mental health and other services in their mother tongue after arriving in Canada, the committee found.

In some cases, only Arabic-speaking interpreters are available, which one witness said was upsetting for a young Yazidi girl in Calgary because her captors in Iraq spoke Arabic.

The committee says government should offer better, more integrated settlement services for vulnerable refugee groups and better anticipate their linguistic needs.

But Conservative MP Michelle Rempel, whose lobbying efforts helped push the government to commit to resettling 1,200 Yazidi women and children last year, called the committee's final recommendations "broad and milquetoast." After dealing directly with many of these survivors of genocide, rape and torture, Rempel said she wanted to see a stronger call for services for these refugees.

"We don't have an integrated response," she told The Canadian Press.

"It's one thing to say, 'Hashtag welcome to Canada' and it's another to do the heavy lifting and hard work and hard discussion to 'Hashtag integrate into Canada.'"

Another recommendation from the committee report is also drawing some criticism.

It calls on Canada to increase its refugee resettlement targets in the wake of the global refugee crisis, but stopped short of specifying any groups.

A number of witnesses called for more Yazidi refugees to be brought to Canada. But others, including the United Nations refugee agency, raised concerns about the politicization of Canadian resettlement programs that target specific groups.

Michel Aziza works with Operation Ezra, a coalition of faith groups that has privately sponsored 10 Yazidi refugee families over the last year. Each of these families have other family members they would like to bring to Canada, he said.

"I agree that you can't prioritize (refugees) but the fact of the matter is the Yazidis are the victim of a genocide," Aziza said.

"I know it's a difficult decision to make, but I feel there is an opportunity bring in more Yazidis, help the ones that are here by reuniting families. And when you reunite families you make the resettlement of the families that you bring in even easier because they have a support infrastructure already in place here in Canada."

Rob Oliphant, Liberal MP and chair of the immigration committee, said his goal in preparing the report was to ensure there were no dissenting reports from Opposition members. The recommendation on increasing refugee targets without specifying Yazidis was a compromise.

The committee recognizes a crisis still exists in Iraq for the Yazidi people, but targeting the government-assisted refugee program toward Yazidis does not need to continue at the same level "because we don't know what the other crises will be," Oliphant said.

"We're not prepared to tie the government down on that. We think Canada should continue the process of the most vulnerable, the most at risk and that almost changes on a daily, weekly or monthly basis."

The committee instead recommended quotas on private sponsorships of refugees be lifted until 2020 to allow groups like Operation Ezra to bring more Yadizi refugees to Canada.

Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen's office would not say whether the committee's recommendations would be adopted in part or in whole, but did point to a commitment in the recent federal budget of $20 million to expand refugee programs to target women and girls.

"Our special program to resettle women and their families who have endured the brutality of Daesh is truly unique, with very few similar initiatives around the world," Hussen spokesman Hursh Jaswal said in a written statement.

"We will continue to expedite privately-sponsored applications as well as ensure that family members who escape Daesh captivity are able to join their relatives in Canada."

Commons committee recommends better settlement services for vulnerable refugees

by Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press, Apr 6, 2018

Canada should increase its refugee resettlement targets and offer more robust and integrated settlement services to vulnerable groups, a commons committee has recommended. The federal Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration delivered its report last week on a study it conducted looking at resettlement issues faced by Yazidi women and children in Canada. THE CANADIAN PRESS/David Lipnowski

OTTAWA – Yazidi refugees brought to Canada after surviving rape and torture in Iraq are facing barriers accessing mental health and other settlement services in their own language, a House of Commons committee has found.

The immigration committee delivered its report last week after studying resettlement issues faced by Yazidi women and children.

Those who have come through the government-assisted refugee program are running into roadblocks trying to access affordable housing, mental health and other services in their mother tongue after arriving in Canada, the committee found.

In some cases, only Arabic-speaking interpreters are available, which one witness said was upsetting for a young Yazidi girl in Calgary because her captors in Iraq spoke Arabic.

The committee says government should offer better, more integrated settlement services for vulnerable refugee groups and better anticipate their linguistic needs.

But Conservative MP Michelle Rempel, whose lobbying efforts helped push the government to commit to resettling 1,200 Yazidi women and children last year, called the committee’s final recommendations “broad and milquetoast.” After dealing directly with many of these survivors of genocide, rape and torture, Rempel said she wanted to see a stronger call for services for these refugees.

“We don’t have an integrated response,” she told The Canadian Press.

“It’s one thing to say, ‘Hashtag welcome to Canada’ and it’s another to do the heavy lifting and hard work and hard discussion to ‘Hashtag integrate into Canada.'”

Another recommendation from the committee report is also drawing some criticism.

It calls on Canada to increase its refugee resettlement targets in the wake of the global refugee crisis, but stopped short of specifying any groups.

A number of witnesses called for more Yazidi refugees to be brought to Canada. But others, including the United Nations refugee agency, raised concerns about the politicization of Canadian resettlement programs that target specific groups.

Michel Aziza works with Operation Ezra, a coalition of faith groups that has privately sponsored 10 Yazidi refugee families over the last year. Each of these families have other family members they would like to bring to Canada, he said.

“I agree that you can’t prioritize (refugees) but the fact of the matter is the Yazidis are the victim of a genocide,” Aziza said.

“I know it’s a difficult decision to make, but I feel there is an opportunity bring in more Yazidis, help the ones that are here by reuniting families. And when you reunite families you make the resettlement of the families that you bring in even easier because they have a support infrastructure already in place here in Canada.”

Rob Oliphant, Liberal MP and chair of the immigration committee, said his goal in preparing the report was to ensure there were no dissenting reports from Opposition members. The recommendation on increasing refugee targets without specifying Yazidis was a compromise.

The committee recognizes a crisis still exists in Iraq for the Yazidi people, but targeting the government-assisted refugee program toward Yazidis does not need to continue at the same level “because we don’t know what the other crises will be,” Oliphant said.

“We’re not prepared to tie the government down on that. We think Canada should continue the process of the most vulnerable, the most at risk and that almost changes on a daily, weekly or monthly basis.”

The committee instead recommended quotas on private sponsorships of refugees be lifted until 2020 to allow groups like Operation Ezra to bring more Yadizi refugees to Canada.

Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen’s office would not say whether the committee’s recommendations would be adopted in part or in whole, but did point to a commitment in the recent federal budget of $20 million to expand refugee programs to target women and girls.

“Our special program to resettle women and their families who have endured the brutality of Daesh is truly unique, with very few similar initiatives around the world,” Hussen spokesman Hursh Jaswal said in a written statement.

“We will continue to expedite privately-sponsored applications as well as ensure that family members who escape Daesh captivity are able to join their relatives in Canada.”

Canada Struggles as It Opens Its Arms to Victims of ISIS

By Catherine Porter, New York Times, March 16, 2018

“I am always in pain,” said Adiba, a Yazidi who was captured by ISIS and sold six times before escaping. “I’m never comfortable.” Credit Tara Walton for The New York Times

CALGARY, Alberta — As leader of one of Canada’s largest refugee agencies, Fariborz Birjandian, a refugee himself, has years of experience welcoming the world’s most vulnerable — Kosovar Albanians fleeing ethnic cleansing, Burmese Karens evicted from Thai refugee camps and Syrians escaping the civil war.

Nothing prepared him for the Yazidis.

Recently, he entered an English-language classroom in his agency’s building near downtown Calgary, just after a 28-year-old woman had finished describing the screams of a young girl being raped by an Islamic State soldier. Suddenly, the woman fell unconscious.

Her eyes rolled into the back of their sockets, her back arched on the floor and she began to hyperventilate, her voice a rising octave until it emerged as a yelp. She grabbed fistfuls of her hair and snapped her teeth at her forearms.

“Don’t let her bite herself,” said Kheriya Khidir, an interpreter, settling down to hold one of the woman’s arms and stroke her face lovingly. Mr. Birjandian raced off to call an ambulance. Then, he slipped into a stairwell to collect his shaken emotions.

The woman, Jihan, is one of almost 1,200, mostly women and children, victims of the Islamic State who have been brought to Canada as part of a special refugee program set up particularly for Yazidis, members of a tiny religious minority from Northern Iraq that the militants set out to decimate in August 2014.
Continue reading the main story
“We all have mental issues,” Jihan said. The names of seven loved ones — all taken by ISIS — are crudely tattooed across her chest, arms and hands. Credit Amber Bracken for The New York Times

Canada’s immigration minister — who is also a former refugee — assured Canadians the program would address the “unimaginable trauma, both physical and emotional” that most of the victims carried with them.
Continue reading the main story

But a little over a year later, the Yazidis have proved a steep challenge to the country’s celebrated refugee settlement system, and to those who work in it like Mr. Birjandian.

While safety and a new routine helped most other refugees recover, the Yazidis need more and different treatments; workers say they are the most traumatized group yet to be admitted. Counselors, doctors and other workers are hearing such upsetting stories that they themselves need treatment.

“It’s never been this extreme,” said Dr. Annalee Coakley, the lead physician of Calgary’s Mosaic Refugee Health Clinic, explaining that many Yazidis in her clinic showed symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder — flashbacks, night terrors, anxiety, surges of anger.

In some places, efforts to help the refugees seem to be working. In others, they are stumbling.

“The services have been disparate and not coordinated,” said Michelle Rempel, the opposition member of parliament who has championed the Yazidi cause. “I don’t understand why the government has not put more emphasis on it.”

Government officials say that the program is the most elaborate in the country’s history, and that any hiccups stem from the levels of trauma, not poor planning.

“It’s not perfect, but we are fairly good at this,” said David Manicom, the immigration department’s assistant deputy minister for settlement and integration.
Continue reading the main story

As documented by United Nations investigators, when militants of the Islamic State, or ISIS, descended onto Yazidi villages across arid Sinjar Mountain, they rounded up the men, either forcing them to convert to Islam or be killed. The Yazidis’ ancient faith made them apostates in the eyes of the militants.

Women and girls — some as young as 9 — were cataloged and sold into a codified system of sex slavery.

Jihan was sold so many times, she lost count. Like others interviewed for this article, she asked The New York Times to use her first name only to protect family members still held by ISIS.

She and a few other women in Calgary have had seizure-like attacks in which they drop to the ground and seem to relive their rapes.

“I didn’t know what to do,” said Margaret Styczynska, manager of Calgary Catholic Immigration Society’s resettlement center, where arriving refugees spend their first few weeks.

“They were suffocating themselves,” she continued. “They screamed like you are killing an animal. Some lasted 15 minutes or longer.”

As staff members called ambulance after ambulance — requesting female paramedics — they realized they needed to introduce trauma counseling into their work.

“We are not trained for that, but we learned how to do it,” Ms. Styczynska said.

The Canadian government oversees the country’s refugee resettlement program from a distance, funding specialized nongovernmental agencies to do the hands-on work.

Traditionally, counselors help arriving refugees set up the practicalities of their new life — finding housing, enrolling in school and language classes, setting up a bank account. For the minority whose mental health symptoms don’t go away, the family doctor is supposed to step in.

Even before they came, it was clear the Yazidis would need more. However, the government left it up to agencies to draft their own specialized programs. In some places, that has happened. In others, it did not.

“Where is the Canadian government?” said Melkaya, 27, who arrived to the suburbs of Toronto last July with her young son, and spends most of her days in their basement apartment, reliving moments from her 28 months in captivity.

“They told us they would help us with psychologist,” she said. “We haven’t see anything from them. Aren’t we human?”

The head of the settlement agency in Toronto, Mario Calla, said that it had been relying on family doctors to find psychological help for their refugee patients, and that the organization was introducing a support group now.

In Calgary, refugee workers put extra money toward rent so that they could find Yazidis apartments close to one another, for community. In one case, 45 live on one snow-swept street in the city’s southwest quadrant. The workers put on Yazidi-only English classes for the refugees’ comfort.

Still, none of this was enough. So, in August a mental health therapist began a “wellness” program, tailor-made for the Yazidis. The women are taught basic coping strategies, like smelling essential oils and cross-body exercises, said to connect the two sides of the brain.

In November, the organization hired a third crisis counselor to offer one-on-one therapy. Few, however, have taken her up on it — not even Jihan.

“We all have mental issues,” said Jihan, over dinner with five Yazidi neighbors. The names of seven loved ones — all taken by ISIS — are crudely tattooed across her chest, arms and hands.

For her, the tattooing was an act of resistance, which she did while imprisoned in Raqqa, using a sewing needle, ash and another inmate’s breast milk. “We all think a lot about what happened to us,” she said.

Jihan was diagnosed with conversion disorder, a catchall description for neurological symptoms not explained by medical causes.

Since she arrived in Canada last June, and began taking anxiety medication, her seizure-like attacks have been greatly reduced — from four a day that each might last hours, to one every couple months. She doesn’t want therapy.

A lack of interpreters who speak Kurmanji — the Yazidi dialect of Kurdish — has proved a hindrance too. A year ago, before the arrival of the Islamic State victims, there were only 1,000 to 1,500 Yazidis in Canada, according to government estimates. Sixteen Kurmanji-speaking interpreters have been hired, but that’s not enough.

Many Yazidis refuse to speak Arabic or use translation services offered by Muslim Kurds who speak Badini, a similar dialect of Kurdish.

“My heart won’t let me tell a Muslim person what happened to me,” said Kamo, another Yazidi refugee, who survived more than slavery.

Her husband and four of her seven children were pried from her and she doesn’t know their fate. The memory of the last time she saw her eldest daughter, Suzan, brings her to tears. The 14-year-old girl was screaming as ISIS soldiers surrounded her and stripped off her clothing, she said.

“I escaped from these people two years ago, but I still feel captured,” said Kamo, 38. “My heart is not with me. It is with my kids.”

Stories like this are why the Mosaic clinic introduced workshops on something called vicarious trauma for its own staff who work with Yazidi refugees.

“I’ve never heard such depravity,” said Dr. Coaklee of the clinic. “Trying to reconcile your worldview with what you are hearing, you have to change your worldview. There is no justice and life isn’t fair.”

Mr. Birjandian, the chief executive officer of the Calgary immigration society, is among a crescendo of refugee workers calling on the government to expand the Yazidi resettlement program by bringing over not only spouses and dependent children of refugees but extended family members.

“Our fear is the government will be scared of this population and won’t want to touch them,” he said. “But really, this is the population we should help — if we call what we are doing a humanitarian effort.”

“They are the most traumatized,” he added, “and the most resilient.”

Across the country in Toronto, a small group of Yazidi women and teenagers gathered on a Saturday in January for their group therapy session run by One Free World International, a nonprofit human rights organization that stepped in when it saw the local settlement agency wasn’t offering trauma counseling.

“I am always in pain,” said Adiba, a Yazidi who was captured by ISIS and sold six times before escaping. “I’m never comfortable.” She is often in tears. She contemplates suicide.

“Wherever I go, my life will be hard,” said Adiba, 28. “What I saw, it wasn’t something small or simple.”

Since she escaped, she has suffered seizure-like attacks. Normally, her family surrounds her, massaging her hands and holding her body until she calms. “We all start crying until we feel better, all together,” said her sister, Shirin.

But last September, a family friend rushed her to the nearby Mackenzie Richmond Hill Hospital where she was treated as a suicidal patient and restrained — her ankles and wrists bound to the hospital gurney.

“It was the lack of understanding of how to deal with sex slaves and victims of ISIS,” said Majed El Shafie, One Free World’s founder. “They were doing exactly what ISIS did before raping her. That really broke my heart.”

‘Please Take Us Back To Iraq’: A Yazidi Family’s Traumatic First Days In Canada

The Dasni family survived unspeakable horrors in Iraq. When they arrived in Toronto last year, they had nothing: no money, no English and only a vague idea of where Canada was on a map. Without the support of a dedicated group of volunteers, they say they couldn’t have coped with the shock of their new lives here — raising important questions about Canada’s ability to help traumatized refugees.

by Naomi Buck, Dec 8, 2017

Warning: Some details in this story may be disturbing to readers.

When Adiba Dasni* arrived at Toronto Pearson Airport last February, after a 15-hour flight from Iraq with two sisters and six children in tow, the Prime Minister was not waiting at the airport to greet them. There were no camera crews, no volunteers waving little Canadian flags. In fact, the Dasni family’s arrival paints a very different picture from the one conveyed by news coverage of Syrian refugees arriving to open arms in 2015.

The Dasnis are Yazidi, members of the small Kurdish-speaking minority that ISIS set out to eliminate as it extended its barbaric tentacles into northern Iraq in the summer of 2014. In a matter of days, some 10,000 Yazidi were tortured, executed, kidnapped or enslaved in what the United Nations has called an act of genocide. In February 2017, when Canada’s minister of immigration, refugees and citizenship, Ahmed Hussen, announced plans bring 1,200 victims of ISIS terror into Canada, he explained that, given the “unimaginable trauma, both physical and emotional,” the Yazidi had endured, they would be handled discreetly — no information about arrival dates or locations would be made public.

And so, when the Dasnis stepped off the plane, the Kurdish-speaking UN escort who had accompanied them on their flights (from Erbil to Amman to Montreal to Toronto) handed them over to agents from the Toronto settlement agency COSTI, who were standing at the arrival gate holding signs with the family’s name. They took the Dasnis to the taxi stand, divided them between two cars, handed the drivers written instructions and waved farewell.

Yazidi women Canada

The Dasnis now live in a bungalow on a suburban street, north of Toronto. Photo, Chloe Ellingson.

The sisters sat frozen in silent terror. Three months earlier, they hadn’t even heard of Canada. Their decision to come here was a leap of faith; they had never been on a plane before, never crossed a national border. They had no money, didn’t speak a word of English and had left most of their family behind. Now they were separated from each other, and at the mercy of drivers whose beards and turbans triggered memories of the men who had raped and tortured them and killed their brothers and husbands back home.

Half an hour later, when they arrived unharmed at a hotel, they thanked God. But there was nobody there to meet them and the receptionist didn’t speak Arabic. The women sat down on the floor of the hotel lobby and cried.

A Lebanese guest of the hotel saw them and offered to help — “a complete stranger,”says Adiba, still baffled by his gesture. He translated for them and brought them food from the supermarket. With his help, they found their way to the two rooms COSTI had booked for them, and settled into one, afraid to be apart. The kids slept on the floor.

It’s tempting to assume that survivors of war and displaced persons’ camps would be grateful for the relative safety of a hotel room in Canada. But the Dasnis didn’t know they were safe. All they knew was what they didn’t know: where to find food, how to use the television, whether hotel staff could be trusted, who or what would come next.

“We cried for two days,” Adiba recalls. “It was worse than in the camps. Our cellphones didn’t work, we couldn’t communicate with anyone. My nephew stopped eating. I thought he was going to die.”

On the third day, there was a knock on the hotel room door. Adiba’s older sister, Hadiya, answered. The man introduced himself as Hayder Essw. He was the first person in Canada to speak to them in their native Kurdish dialect. Hadiya’s first words to him were: “Please take us back to Iraq.”

Essw was there to help, but he wasn’t a caseworker or government employee. He’s a member of the tight-knit Yazidi community in Toronto, a volunteer who, since the first Yazidi refugees began arriving in early 2017, has spent much of his time tracking newcomer arrivals.

Essw reassured the women that things were going to be all right. Now that they had been “discovered” by the community, help would begin to flow. And it did.

It came from the government, in the form of financial support and health care coverage, as it does for all government-assisted refugees. But the arduous process of the Dasni family’s settlement has fallen largely to volunteers. This kind of civic engagement reflects well on Canada, providing such volunteers exist and, importantly, have the newcomers’ best interests in mind. But it’s leaving a lot to chance. And it raises critical questions about the government’s ability to meet the needs of a brutally traumatized people. As Jan Kizilhan, a German expert on trauma and the Yazidi, puts it, “It’s not enough to just offer them a safe country.”

Yes, the Canadian government provides Yazidi refugees with free health care, but who finds them a doctor and shows them how to get there? Yes, ESL classes are free, but who helps them make sense of Canadian customs and culture? The government prides itself on taking in a “vulnerable population,” but who makes sure they are getting the help they need to come to terms with their past? Without that, they can’t begin to shape a future.

Hadiya, the mother of six, runs the household; she is perpetually cleaning or cooking. Photo, Chloe Ellingson.

Over the course of several visits spanning four months, Adiba tells me her story. It’s hard, but she’s determined. She wants the Canadian government to do more for her people. She can’t let go of her relatives back in Iraq?—?in camps, in captivity or whereabouts unknown.

The family now lives in a randomly furnished bungalow?—?the lamps are still wrapped in cellophane, a Canadian flag hangs on the wall?—?on a quiet suburban street north of Toronto. Hadiya, the mother of six, runs the household; she is perpetually cleaning or cooking. There are two constants to our visits. One is her offer of sweet black tea or food from her busy kitchen. The other is Majed El Shafie.

El Shafie, a stocky 40-year-old with plump jowls and a quick smile, is the founder and director of the Toronto-based human rights organization One Free World International. With his bespoke suits and buffed leather shoes, he seems out of place in this modest suburban setting, but Adiba insists he be here for our meetings. “Without him, we would go back,” says Adiba, speaking through a translator. “He is the only one who is helping us with everything.”

Four months after they arrived at Pearson on that rainy February night, Adiba sits poised in her new living room. Her sister Shirin is curled up on a couch, scrolling through her phone. Adiba wears an ankle-length brown dress, Shirin is in leggings and a top; they both have long, dark hair, tied back. Their four-year-old niece is sucking a soother and playing on an iPad. Adiba grips a gold pendant hanging around her neck. Asked if it came from home, she says, “No, they took everything from us. Everything.”

Adiba struggles to describe her life before the summer of 2014. She uses her fingers to count through her 11 siblings. They lived together with their parents in a mud-brick compound on the outskirts of Sinjar town. Adiba’s father, blinded by gunshots to the face in the first Gulf War, was unemployed. Like many Yazidi, the Dasnis had a family farm and made a living with handiwork and in local factories. “It was nice,” she says. “We didn’t have much but we were happy.”

That all changed in June 2014, when ISIS occupied nearby Mosul, declared religious rule in northern Iraq and announced that non-Muslims in the region must convert?—?or face death.

Such threats are not new to the Yazidi of northern Iraq. Reviled for their ancient religion, which combines elements of Islam, Christianity and Zoroastrianism, they have been oppressed and attacked by regional powers dating back to the Ottomans. Branded “devil worshippers,” the Yazidi are further loathed for their refusal to convert or marry outside their faith.

ISIS’s plans went beyond persecution. Not only did the terrorist group vow to eliminate the Yazidi for good — to destroy their ancestral villages, temples and shrines, and slaughter their men?—?it also trumpeted its intention to use the women and girls as sex slaves: a brutal reward program for ISIS fighters that would serve to grow their numbers.

Adiba and her sisters stopped tending to the family farm; they abandoned the tomatoes, peppers and eggplants that they normally would have been selling in the local market. They stayed home and waited. The Kurdish peshmerga forces defending Sinjar reassured them that everything was all right. ISIS forces might take control of the local government, they said, but we won’t let them hurt you.

In the pre-dawn darkness of August 3, 2014, Adiba heard gunfire. Outside, there was no trace of their peshmerga protectors. Adiba’s family piled into their two cars. Like tens of thousands of other Yazidi across the region, they headed toward the top of craggy Sinjar mountain, to flee northwards. The roads were choked with cars.

When the Dasnis were stopped at the first ISIS checkpoint, machine-gun-wielding jihadists grabbed the men, blindfolded them and tied their hands behind their backs. Some were shot in the head, others dragged away. According to UN demographer Valeria Cetorelli, an estimated 3,100 Yazidi were killed or starved to death in the days after the incursion. Meanwhile, some 6,800 Yazidi, most of them women and children, were kidnapped by ISIS?—?Adiba and her sisters, nieces and nephews among them.

Corralled into the back of a truck, Adiba caught glimpses of her sisters, nieces and nephews in the crowd. Theirs was one of several vehicles hurtling down the road to Mosul. They were eventually deposited at a large building?—?an abandoned wedding hall?—?on the east side of the Tigris River.

Inside, it was hot and dark; the windows were boarded up, the air conditioning turned off. ISIS soldiers guarded the doors. Adiba and her fellow captives?—?she guesses there were somewhere between 500 and 900 of them?—?tried to get comfortable on the marble floor.

The days became indistinguishable from the nights. Every now and again, the jihadists handed out bread, hard-boiled eggs and plastic water bottles that had been baking in the sun outside. There was never enough to go around. After a week or so, women with children were taken away; Adiba said goodbye to Hadiya and her children. The unwed women who remained were virgins, premarital sex being an absolute taboo among the Yazidi. They were divided into categories: “beautiful, medium and ugly.” Soon after, Adiba and a few other women were taken to the basement of a house on the outskirts of Mosul. ISIS men processed in and out, surveying the women and claiming them, one by one, as sex slaves.

After about a month, Adiba’s first captor resold her. Her photograph was posted at the local courthouse with a phone number attached. This happened six times over roughly a year. Sometimes she was sold for money, sometimes for cigarettes. Sometimes she was a gift. Adiba remembers the names and faces of all the men who raped her; their wives, who beat her; the toilets she drank out of and the leftovers that were thrown to her on the floor. “I tried to kill myself a few times but they would not let me,” she says with a blank stare. “Life is hard when you have no honour.”

Yazidi women Canada

Human rights activist Majed El Shafie (pictured) provides much-needed day-to-day support. Photo, Chloe Ellingson.

El Shafie reaches over to hold her arm. He talks to her in Arabic. Whatever he says makes her smile. Taking over the narrative, he describes Adiba’s escape. One afternoon, when her captor’s household was busy, she stole the family’s car keys and took off. She ran for an hour through half-demolished Mosul before coming across a man standing outside his house, wearing jeans and smoking a cigarette?—?signs that he was not with ISIS. She begged him to help.

The man took her to another house and called the phone of her father, who had ended up in a displaced persons’ camp near the northern Iraqi town of Zakho. He named his terms: pay US$15,000 or she’ll be returned to ISIS. Then he raped her repeatedly for the three weeks it took Adiba’s father to scrape together the sum.

When her father had the cash, the men arranged an exchange and Adiba was taken to the camp at Zakho, where she was reunited with surviving members of her family.

She learned that her sisters had both escaped ISIS after three months. In accordance with ISIS’s depraved laws of enslavement, Hadiya, being a mother, had been made a servant rather than a sex slave. She was allowed to keep most of her children with her but ISIS soldiers had tried to kill the baby, by smashing her head against a rock. Now the child was suffering from seizures. Meanwhile, Hadiya’s oldest daughter, 11 at the time, managed to flee from her “fat monster” after giving him a glass of water laced with sleeping pills.

Life in the camp was miserable. A photo shows Adiba and Hadiya standing in the mud outside their tent in a heavy snowfall. Wearing sandals and winter coats, they make the peace sign.

After about a year, Hadiya’s phone rang. A Kurdish translator speaking on behalf of a government official summoned the sisters to a camp office. After being interviewed, they were told that they might be offered asylum in the U.S. or Canada.

The sisters decided that, if given the choice, they should request Canada because “the U.S.A. was so far away.” Canada, on the other hand, they had never heard of. They laugh, covering their faces in embarrassment, as they recount this now.

The women were summoned every two weeks for medical exams or interviews with Canadian officials, the last of which took place in the town of Dohuk. It was called an orientation, but the sisters didn’t retain much beyond the official’s reassurance that translation would be provided at every step of the way. Three months after learning of Canada’s existence, the Dasnis were boarding a plane headed there—to live.

Yazidi women Canada

The Dasnis faced many glitches in the immigration system. One was having the Canadian child benefits for Hadiya’s children withheld because her husband (who was shot dead before her eyes) had not signed a form. Photo, Chloe Ellingson.

El Shafie prefers not to discuss the details of Adiba’s release in her presence, but he put up half of the US$15,000 price tag and has promised to compensate Adiba’s father in full. Sitting in the downtown office of One Free World International, he speaks openly about the bleak—and controversial—business his organization has entered: buying back ISIS slaves. “That was the going price at the time,” El Shafie says, referring to the ransom. “It keeps going up…. But we’re talking human lives here.”

For El Shafie, freedom of religion must be defended at any cost. According to its website, his organization is active in 28 countries around the world and he is drawn to extreme cases, like that of the Yazidi. The mission is personal. Born into a prominent Egyptian family, he was imprisoned and tortured in Hosni Mubarak’s Egypt for publicly converting to Christianity and promoting the faith. After escaping to Israel, he came to Canada as a political refugee in 2002.

Since the 2014 massacre, El Shafie has been working with Kurdish partners on the ground in Iraq to help Yazidi families buy back their daughters, sisters and wives. He estimates that One Free World has helped to pay, in part or in whole, for the release of 600 women. The funds come from donations to his organization, from fees from his speaking engagements and out of his own pocket.

When he is not meeting with officials in Brussels or Washington, or visiting a war zone, El Shafie spends much of his time with the Dasnis and roughly 20 other Yazidi families newly arrived in Toronto. He sees himself as a kind of godfather to the Dasnis. Some of what he has provided might be considered frills: outings to Canada’s Wonderland, Niagara Falls and Toronto’s harbour, which the sisters cite as the highlights of their time in Canada. But he has also played, in practice if not on paper, the roles of settlement worker and social worker: finding the family a house, acting as guarantor on the rental agreement, providing cash infusions for several months until government benefits kicked in, sourcing doctors and specialists, intervening at the local school and attending to personal emergencies.

“Freeing them was one operation,” he says. “But what they face now is tremendously difficult: the stigma, the shame, the memories.” He has lobbied Ottawa forcefully, appearing before and making submissions to the House of Commons immigration committee, asking the government to boost aid to the camps, bring more Yazidi into Canada and provide better mental health support once they’re here.

Germany, home to the largest population of Yazidi outside of Iraq, was the first jurisdiction to focus an aid program on the women and children who had escaped sex slavery. Beginning in early 2015, a small German delegation travelled to camps in the region, screening former ISIS captives for the Special Quota Project, an unprecedented program that brought 1,100 women and children to the southern German state of Baden-Württemberg, where they were given protected housing and intensive medical and psychological treatment. After three years, they can choose to stay in Germany or return to Iraq.

Among the women selected for the program was Nadia Murad. Three years younger than Adiba, she had suffered a similar fate. On August 15, 2014, she watched her six brothers be slain in a mass execution in her village of Kocho, before being taken to Mosul to serve as a slave. After three months, she escaped through a door her captor had left unlocked.

Murad was not too broken to feel rage. In Germany, she spoke out, giving interviews to the media, insisting that the global community wake up and take notice. In December 2015, she addressed the UN Security Council in New York. Renowned human rights lawyer Amal Clooney offered to represent Murad and other former slaves in their quest to have ISIS’s crimes prosecuted before international courts.

In July 2016, a month after the UN declared the ISIS campaign against the Yazidi to be genocide, Murad addressed the House of Commons immigration committee in Ottawa. Her testimony left the hall in chilled silence. Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel was livid at the government’s inaction.

“When we say, ‘Never again,’ we have to match the rhetoric with action,” she says on the phone from Ottawa, referring to the post-Holocaust consensus on genocide. “It took so long for us to respond. We obviously don’t have adequate processes in place when a minority is being persecuted.”

In October 2016, the House of Commons voted unanimously to support a Conservative motion to recognize the genocide and to provide asylum to Yazidi women and children. In its plan, announced four months later, the government committed to bring 1,200 victims of ISIS into Canada as government-assisted refugees, and to facilitate private sponsorship of Yazidi refugees. The government-assisted refugees would receive financial support, health care coverage and settlement services. In addition, Pierre Deveau, a spokesman for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), explained that “due to the horrors they have lived through,” the department was “committed to providing them with the mental health and counselling services they need.” He also anticipated that many Yazidi would be eligible for the Joint Assistance Sponsorship program, reserved for “refugees with special needs,” which would extend their government support from the standard one year to two.

As of November 2017, the government says, 747 of the 1,200 ISIS victims it pledged to bring to Canada as government-assisted refugees have arrived. Most have gone to Calgary, London, Ont., Winnipeg and Toronto. Community organizations, many of them Jewish?—?such as Operation Ezra in Winnipeg or Project Abraham in Toronto?—?have sprung up to help.

But Mirza Ismail, who came to Canada as a refugee in 1993, is not impressed with the government’s efforts. He and Hayder Essw form the unofficial leadership of the Yazidi in the Greater Toronto Area, a community that numbers a few hundred. For him, the number of Yazidi that Canada has taken in pales next to the need, and he’s frustrated that the government has not involved Canada’s small but dedicated Yazidi community in its efforts.

“This is the 74th genocide against our people,” he says. “We’ve only survived this far by sticking together.” Round the clock, he’s on his laptop, communicating with his contacts in Iraq and across Canada, trying to track Yazidi arrivals. It was he who asked Essw to go looking for the Dasnis.

COSTI did eventually show up at the Dasnis’ hotel. Adiba says the settlement workers apologized for their absence?—?it had been Family Day weekend, they explained. The Dasnis were transferred to another hotel that was set up for newly arrived refugees, with a kindergarten and a COSTI office.

“It was better than the first one,” Adiba says, “except for the bedbugs.” The Dasnis were there for nearly two months, fending off bites, filling out paperwork with COSTI and getting to know the other refugee families. Adiba found herself wondering why some Syrian families had been chosen over her people in Iraq. “We are very grateful to Canada,” she explains. “I just wish the government would help the people who need it most.”
Yazidi women Canada

The Dasnis now sometimes have other Yazidi families over and sit on the living room floor, chatting and eating. Photo, Chloe Ellingson.

It’s a question architects of refugee policy grapple with constantly: Who needs it most? And who decides what those people most need?

Jan Kizilhan has spent the last few years finding answers. As the chief psychologist on Germany’s Special Quota Project, the 51-year-old was tasked with selecting which 1,100 Yazidi women would come to Germany for treatment. He interviewed every single one of them and has supervised their therapy in Germany over the last three years.

“The Yazidi suffer intergenerational, secondary and collective traumata,” he says over the phone from his office at the Baden-Württemberg Cooperative State University of Villingen-Schwenningen. “Their treatment requires a high degree of specialization.”

Kizilhan, the grandson of Yazidi killed by Kurdish Muslims in Turkey, emigrated to Germany in the 1970s. His expertise is unique, and Canada’s parliamentary immigration committee consulted with him via video conference in November 2016 while IRCC was formulating its plan for the Yazidi. Having been very clear about the importance of addressing their psychological needs, Kizilhan has been perplexed to hear from colleagues and friends in Canada that therapy is playing a minor role, if any, in their settlement. “If you don’t help these people with their health, they have no hope of integrating,” he says. “Mentally, they are not in Canada, they are still in Kurdistan, in Iraq.”

IRCC turned down a request for an interview for this article, but department spokespeople responded to questions by email. They emphasized that the Yazidi “are a very vulnerable population” and that the government is “conscious of not doing anything that may re-victimize or re-traumatize them.” They also stated that “all resettled refugees are linked to appropriate support services,” and that their health coverage, the Interim Federal Health Program, covers 10 hours of counselling sessions, with the possibility of more, if required. More recently, an IRCC spokesperson added that “the department is following families closely,” and that staff meet weekly to discuss how the families are adapting.

Ten months after arriving in Canada, Adiba and her sisters haven’t had a single hour of counselling—nor would they ever request such a thing, Kizilhan points out, given the cultural stigma associated with mental illness and the depth of their trauma. At a briefing of the parliamentary immigration committee in November, Dawn Edlund, a senior operations official with IRCC, noted that “fewer than five” resettled Yazidi had accessed individualized counselling since coming to Canada.

The figure elicited a loud gasp from Michelle Rempel, the Yazidi’s strongest advocate in the House of Commons. “Having no plan to provide them with the support they need to help them through this trauma is another injustice that humanity has placed upon their lives, except this time it’s being perpetrated by hands of the Canadian government,” she said. Edlund added that it was probably just a matter of time; the women’s mental health needs would likely “resurface” once the “initial euphoria” of arrival in Canada had passed.

The Dasnis’ entry into Canada can hardly be described as euphoric, nor have the dark shadows of trauma ever retreated. A few months after arriving, Adiba received a video of what she calls “sad songs” from someone “back home.” She wouldn’t let anyone else view the video, but El Shafie suspects it was footage from a rape. Whatever it was triggered what Shirin calls “one of Adiba’s episodes.” Soon Adiba was on the floor, screaming and scratching herself. Unable to restrain her, her sisters called Essw, who took her to the emergency room at the nearest hospital.

Adiba doesn’t recall much, but Shirin does. “Ten men held her down. They gave her an injection. Then they bound her to the bed. They put guards outside her room. They said they were going to keep her there.” Shirin pulls out her phone and scrolls to the video she shot of Adiba writhing on a hospital bed, her wrists and ankles cuffed to the rails.

Shirin refused to leave her sister’s side. By dawn they had reached El Shafie, who came to the hospital. He explained who the women were and where they were from. The hospital, which had wanted to admit Adiba and put her on suicide watch, agreed to let her go. After all, nobody on its psychiatric staff spoke Arabic, let alone Kurdish.

What of the government settlement services and “specialized supports” that IRCC said would be in place COSTI staffers did not make themselves available for an interview for this story, despite multiple requests. The Dasnis say their COSTI settlement worker is nice, but not around much; for a while she was visiting them every couple of weeks, now it’s monthly. The agency provided the family with furniture and clothing and helped them with paperwork. But when there have been glitches—for instance, when the Canadian child benefits for Hadiya’s children were withheld because her husband (who was shot dead before her eyes) had not signed a form—El Shafie has stepped in. The Dasnis and many other newly arrived Yazidi also complain that nobody on COSTI’s staff speaks Kurdish; many Yazidi, including Hadiya, don’t speak Arabic.

After 10 months in Canada, Adiba and her sisters still can’t bring themselves to use public transit. Nobody has shown them how, and they don’t trust the drivers. Their preferred mode of transport is walking or cycling on bikes donated by an Iranian woman they met through the kids’ school. The sisters ride around the neighbourhood, helmetless. When Shirin was hit by a car on a major artery near their house, bystanders called the police. When she saw the men in uniform approaching, she fled.

Yazidi women Canada

The Dasnis are approaching the first anniversary of their lives in Canada. Over the summer, a neighbour mowed their little lawn; this fall they collected leaves with their hands and stuffed them into lawn bags; now they’re eagerly anticipating Christmas, something they know only from movies.

Now, when asked, “How are you?” Adiba responds in English with a polite, “Fine, thanks. How are you?” and a self-conscious little smile.

Their living room no longer feels barren. A handsome Persian rug gives the wooden floor warmth. Their house is beginning to feel like a home, but the Dasni sisters feel acutely the absence of their parents, siblings, cousins, nieces, nephews and fiancés. On one wall, they have created a photo gallery of relatives still in ISIS captivity. A black sticker with their WiFi network information is stuck to the corner of the Canadian flag: it’s their lifeline.

There is one constant source of pleasure in Adiba’s life, and it was Essw who introduced her to it. On a warm morning in September, she and Shirin pack up their knapsacks: pencil case, notebook, mobile phone, water bottles. “I love this,” says Adiba, with a huge smile that reveals a missing molar.

She and Shirin set out on a 40-minute walk through their neighbourhood. When they reach the community church, they trudge up the stairs to the second floor and a small classroom whose walls are covered with maps and photos of Canadian landscapes. Twenty-four adults of all ages and colours sit at desks.

Adiba and Shirin take two empty desks at the back of the room. Adiba is wearing a black down jacket. She’s feeling cold and has “stress in her stomach” but she’s used to it—she often can’t make herself eat, often can’t taste or smell anything.

When the teacher walks in, Adiba and Shirin sit up straight. They look like children anticipating a huge gift. She’s never done this before, never learned to read or write. Adiba knows this is the beginning of something. “If I can learn English, my future will be good,” she tells me. Last week, for the first time ever, she wrote a text message. It was her name, written in English. She sent it to El Shafie.

One day, she’ll be able to send messages back to Iraq, not just photos. She’ll be able to write the words she uses to describe Canada: “beautiful, peaceful, safe, with many nice people.”

She’ll be able to describe their current lives: How Hadiya’s kids are doing at school. That her toddler is now seeing a specialist at Sick Kids Hospital. How they sometimes have other Yazidi families over and sit on the living room floor, chatting and eating their way through one box of Pizza Pizza after another. Maybe they’ll even admit that, at El Shafie’s insistence, they have agreed to talk to a psychologist.

When asked what a normal day looks like for her now, she shrugs. There is no normal, yet. Asked if she can imagine her life here in 10 years, she thinks for a while. She says she would like to work in the area of human rights, to help other people. She will keep a clean and welcoming house, to honour the Yazidi tradition of hospitality. And maybe, one day, she will have a family of her own.

“Maybe,” she says, in Arabic. “God willing.”

*Last names have been changed.

Update: After this story was published, COSTI submitted a statement to Chatelaine about the role it plays in settling newcomers. Executive director Mario J. Calla noted that that when families first arrive, COSTI provides shelter and facilities staffed by full-time settlement workers, to help get them established. That role broadens when the families move into their new homes and communities to include working with volunteers. Privacy and safety concerns relating to extended family in conflict zones prevent COSTI from commenting on the services offered to specific families.

Fewer than 5 Yazidi survivors have accessed individualized trauma counselling in Canada
Victims of rape, torture and sexual slavery face language, resettlement barriers
Kathleen Harris · CBC News · Posted: Nov 07, 2017

Basema and her son Hazal arrived in Canada five months ago as part of a federal program to resettle 1,200 Yazidis and other survivors of ISIS by the end of 2017.

Fewer than five Yazidi survivors of rape, torture and sexual slavery at the hands of ISIS have accessed one-on-one trauma counselling through federal assistance, according to immigration officials.

MPs on the immigration committee are receiving briefings this week on Canada's special program to bring 1,200 Yazidis and other survivors of ISIS by the end of the year. Officials confirmed the government is on track to meet its target, and that 81 per cent of the 807 people resettled so far are Yazidi.

But under questioning from MPs today, officials outlined challenges with the complex resettlement process, ranging from translation and interpretation services, to medical treatment to specialized trauma and mental health care.

While health services are normally covered by the provinces and territories, the federal government provides funding for refugees through an interim federal health care program.

Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel let out an audible gasp when an immigration department official revealed that fewer than five resettled Yazidis have accessed individualized counselling.

"What the Canadian Mental Health Association has told us is in situations like this, you have the initial euphoria when people arrive in Canada, and then their mental health needs resurface six to 24 months in," said Dawn Edlund, a senior operations official with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.

Responding to the figure, Rempel said more must be done to help those who have survived atrocities that "many of us can not even fathom."

"I've met with girls who are now in Canada who have been sold and raped multiple times, after watching their families be murdered in front of them," she told CBC News Tuesday.

Rempel shocked by how few Yazidis accessing mental health help

Conservative Immigration critic Michelle Rempel surprised when she seeks information around a government plan to provide specialized mental health services for Yazidis resettled in Canada. 1:12

"Having no plan to provide them with the support they need to help them through this trauma is another injustice that humanity has placed upon their lives, except this time it's being perpetrated by hands of the Canadian government. This needs to change, now. Their lives are still at risk."

Rempel said language is one barrier to accessing treatment, and that the government should have an overall strategy for helping the women and children access necessary treatment instead of having to navigate a system.

Edlund said 50 people have also accessed medication through the federal health program.
Protection top priority

UNHCR representative in Canada Jean-Nicolas Beuze told the committee that whenever possible, Yazidi survivors and their children should be protected and supported to remain in their homeland in northern Iraq.

The UN does not normally identify individuals for resettlement based on ethnicity or country of origin, but on degrees of vulnerability, yet made an exception in this case, he said.

Those identified for resettlement were based on medical or psychological needs, but also women with children born out of rape who face stigma.

"Children born out of wedlock of women who had been held captive by Daesh (ISIS) are particularly at risk of reprisal from their own family, unfortunately, and from their own communities," he said. "Because of the so-called shame that has been brought to the family of having a female member of the family who had been raped; those would be a case where we would consider resettlement."

UNHCR says Yazidi rape victims at greatest risk

Jean-Nicolas Beauze of the UNHCR tells a parliamentary committee that women who have had children after being raped by ISIS are at risk of reprisals by their own community due to the shame that has been brought upon them. 0:58

The Yazidis are a religious minority based mainly in northern Iraq, with a culture dating back 6,000 years. ISIS has targeted them in brutal attacks since August 2014.

Last June, a United Nations report declared that the slaughter, sexual slavery, indoctrination and other crimes committed against the 400,000 Yazidi amounted to genocide. Its finding that the militants had been systematically rounding up Yazidis to "erase their identity" meets the definition under the 1948 UN Convention on Genocide.

1,383 referrals

On Oct. 25, 2016, MPs unanimously supported an opposition motion sponsored by Rempel to bring an unspecified number of Yazidi women and girls to Canada within 120 days.

In February, Hussen announced the target would be 1,200 by the end of 2017.

Edlund said to date, 1,383 Yazidi and other survivors of ISIS have been referred to the special program which means Canada will continue to resettle more individuals and families beyond the 1,200 target into 2018.

Most of those who arrived in Canada to date have been resettled in Toronto, Calgary, Winnipeg and London, Ont. but smaller numbers have gone to 14 other communities across the country.

Meet the 26-Year-Old Canadian Woman Fighting for Yazidi Refugees
Nafiya Naso, 26, is helping thousands of Yazidi refugees escape religious persecution and find safety in Canada—just like she did at age 10
Feb 28, 2017 Flannery Dean

It was early August 2014, and Yazidi-Canadian Nafiya Naso’s phone was ringing non-stop. On the line were terrified friends and family living through a horrific assault by ISIS, who had swept into the Sinjar district of Northern Iraq on Aug. 3 with brutal force.

“I heard how many people were killed and how the young women and children were taken,” says Naso, a 26-year-old nursing student and mother of two who is based in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

At the time, the horrors of the assault were still unfolding for the Yazidi people, a minority group in Iraq considered infidels by ISIS because they practice their own ancient religion. It’s estimated that as many as 5,500 Yazidi men and boys were murdered by ISIS in the August 2014 genocide, while thousands of girls and women were taken hostage and subject to sexual torture—and many still remain captive today.

In addition, hundreds of thousands of Yazidis fled their homes on foot. An estimated 360,000 Yazidis have been displaced since the 2014 siege, seeking shelter in refugee camps in Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Europe.

Resolved to help her people survive, 26-year-old Naso, who came to Canada from Iraq as a refugee in 1990, began knocking on doors. “I begged for help and it was so hard for me to get that help because no one knew who the Yazidis were, or what the heck I was talking about.”

Naso, who formed the Yazidi Community of Manitoba, soon found a strong ally in Winnipeg’s Jewish community. Together, they raised funds to privately sponsor a Yazidi family of seven, who came to Winnipeg in July 2015. Two years later that group, which calls itself Operation Ezra, has expanded to include over 24 agencies and multi-faith organizations. To date, they have privately sponsored six families (35 people in total) and helped settle them in Winnipeg, and have plans to bring 20 to 25 more people by the end of 2017.

Since they brought their first family to Canada, Naso and Operation Ezra have been instrumental in urging the Canadian government to make the settling of Yazidis a priority. That pressure has paid off. On February 21, Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen announced Canada will accept 1,200 Yazidi refugees by the end of 2017.

“It’s a start,” says Naso.

Naso talked to FLARE about how it feels to be a refugee, what gets lost in public conversations about immigration and why it’s so important that we open both our hearts and our borders to those in need of rescue.

You left Iraq in 1990 when you were two years old. What were the circumstances?
Before I was born, my dad, as well as many other Yazidi men, were forced to serve in the Iraqi military in the war between Iraq and Iran. They were being treated as disposables and when I was two years old my dad was shot by Iraqis in the military simply because he was a Yazidi. After that, he managed to escape and that same day my family and I fled our home in Khanasour (in Northern Iraq, near Mount Sinjar). It was a long journey on foot. My mom was eight months pregnant at the time, my brother was three years old and I was a little bit heavier and wasn’t able to walk. My mum couldn’t carry all three of us so I was almost left behind. Thankfully she spotted a donkey nearby, and that donkey saved my life. That donkey carried me and my brother to the refugee camp in Syria where we stayed in tents in horrible conditions for eight years. The camp was wired all around and guarded 24/7 by Muslim extremists. No one was allowed to leave. If anyone needed anything they had to ask in advance. If you were lucky, sometimes they let you go, but most of the time they wouldn’t let anyone out.

How did you get to Canada?

One day [after six years at the camp], UN officials came and told all the Yazidis that Australia, Canada and the U.S. were accepting refugees. Luckily for us, about a year after, we learned that there was a Mennonite church in Morden, Man. [located in the southern area of the province, close to the U.S. border] that was willing to sponsor my family. That process took another year and we came and landed in Winnipeg. We stayed while our paperwork was processed for about two weeks and then moved to Morden ,where we spent over two years. We were welcomed by the entire community there with open arms and open hearts. They had a home ready for us that was fully furnished. They registered us for school, got us health cards and SIN cards, and volunteers would come and sit with us and help us with English and help my parents. They taught my dad how to drive a car and went out of their way to make sure that we were all successful.

You were 10 when you came to Canada. How did you feel as a newcomer after all you’d been through?

To be honest, I felt very scared, particularly about going to school and starting school in a new country. You don’t know the language, you don’t know the culture. At the time, there were maybe three or four Yazidi families across Canada. It was hard at the beginning, but after we picked up the language and my parents learned a little bit, it became a lot easier. We’re very thankful for the opportunity of being able to come here and being able to be around such good people, it’s just been great.
Nafiya Naso and her parents who fled Iraq after being persecuted by ISIS for being Yazidis

You and Operation Ezra were instrumental in bringing the plight of the Yazidis to the attention of the federal government. What’s your relationship to the federal sponsorship program that’s planned for this year?
We’re going to play a role in both our privately sponsored families and in the federal sponsorship model as well. We’re currently meeting with settling agencies and trying to take concrete steps and make agendas for when more people arrive. We’re trying to get ourselves organized and to let people know who we are and that we’re here to help in any way we can.

What’s the difference between a private sponsorship model for refugees and a federal sponsorship program?

With private sponsorship, we do everything for the families: volunteers register the kids for school, get them health cards and SIN cards. We have an network of volunteers who go into their homes and help the kids with homework and help the parents on outings, show them around and teach them how to take the bus. We’ve also initiated our own English language program with the six families we’ve brought here. We’ve partnered with Salvation Army, which has offered to provide brand-new beds and mattresses for every refugee that we bring in and also new clothing for all the refugees. We find them homes in locations where they are safe and close to good schools and shopping centres. We pay the extra rent to make sure they’re in good areas. We take all these things into consideration rather then just put them anywhere.

The government has committed to bring 1,200 Yazidis to Canada this year, which sounds generous. But you have more than 3,000 families alone on your waiting list…
Yes, they’ve heard of Operation Ezra and this is their only hope. If we count the people in those families, that’s about 15,000 to 18,000 individuals.

What gets left out in the public discourse about immigration and refugees in your opinion?
We have to understand that nobody wants to leave their home. For example, my parents came here in their 40s. They spent 40 years of their lives in one home and in one village. They were forced to flee—they didn’t want to leave their home and families behind. They were forced to do that and we were also forced to leave Syria as well. It’s a great opportunity [coming to Canada] and we’re so thankful for it, but people have to understand some refugees go from 10 different countries until they reach a safe place. They risk their lives. Many of them don’t make it —and that’s something that people just don’t understand. They assume that they just don’t like where they are and people just start packing up and start walking across borders. That’s not the case.

You do this unpaid and while balancing work, nursing school and a family. Why?
It’s a must for me. Strangers did it for me and my family some 16 years ago and I’m paying that forward just a little bit. This is for my own people and that’s how I look at it.

We are posting this article here in response to a Yazidi woman refugee seeing her torturer here in Canada. Canad must criminally prosecute men who particpated in ISIS.

Kurdish Yezidi Girl Who Escaped IS, Flees Germany After Meeting Her Abuser There

Barham Ali, 14/08/2018

The story of Ashwaq, a young Kurdish Yezidi girl who was kidnapped alongside thousands of others by the Islamic State (IS), is heartbreaking as much as it is unique. It might be a story that many people could not believe, but, yet, it is a true story whose hero is still alive to tell the world about the ordeal.

I sat with her for hours to carefully listen to what she has gone through. She was speaking in Kurdish, but she also speaks Arabic, which she learned during months of IS captivity. It might come as a surprise that she also speaks German. However, Ashwaq told me that she doesn’t want to ever speak in Arabic, she doesn’t even like to hear the language.

The Yezidi girl was abducted by the IS militants when she was only 15. After over ten months, Ashwaq managed to escape the insurgents and the faith they forcefully wanted to impose on her. After her escape, she reunited with some of her family members in Kurdistan Region. Later, as part of a humanitarian program, she, alongside her mother and brother, migrated to Germany and settled in a refugee camp in Stuttgart.

Up to this point, is a story similar to many others. But what makes Ashwaq’s story unique is that after three years living in Stuttgart, she meets Abu Humam, the IS militant who had bought Ashwaq in Iraq’s Mosul for $100, and subjected her to constant inhuman abuses. Abu Humam, at the time of meeting Ashwaq in Germany, appears to have no fear and no regrets. He starts again harassing Ashwaq, which forces the Yezidi victim to escape Germany and return to Kurdistan.

Ashwaq’s Father: a brave man

Haji Hamid Ta’lo, 53, appears to me as such a strong man who could defeat all the injustice. I doubt if there is any other man that could go through and survive so much ordeals.

During my interview, he was smoking nonstop. I sometimes could barely see his face which was showing a man much older than his real age. He has dealt with so much pressure in the past few years that he looks older than a 53-year-old man. Nothing better could be expected from a man whose five sons and one daughter are still in the hands of IS jihadists. He has also lost four of his siblings, together with their families.

The day IS attacked

Before the IS militants attacked Sinjar region on 3rd August 2014, Ashwaq was living with her family in Khanasore subdistrict of Sinjar. They were a large family who were happy together.

“The day Daesh [IS] attacked we were informed that Snune [a nearby subdistrict] had already fallen into IS hands, but we couldn’t escape Khanasore because other routes were also blocked. At the beginning there were only a few IS militants with their vehicles, but, very soon, the Muslim Arabs who were living in the nearby villages joined them with their guns in hand,” Ashwaq’s father said.

He explained that before IS attacked, the Yezidis were living in the area peacefully with the Muslims, but, all of a sudden, everything changed.

“The militants who attacked our home were under the command of a man known as ‘Nashmi Asali’. He was the nephew of the chief in the nearby Hasawek village. We were 77 people from our family when we were caught. They asked us to convert to Islam immediately; but I told them that we cannot do that before talking to our religious leaders.”

Ashwaq’s father pointed out that Asali had asked him to talk to other Yezidis who had already fled to Mount Sinjar to return and they will be safe. The militants want them to gather in Ashwaq’s home and hold a large meeting between Yezidis and attacking the IS militants.

“When Asali and his men left we decided to escape, but it was not possible because other Muslim Arabs in the area reported our plan to the militants. They immediately arrived, singled out 66 people from our family and drove them to Syria. It was only me, my sister, her husband, three of their children who were all disabled, and my uncle’s family left.”

They stayed under home arrest for 45 days, but could not risk more than that as they fled after midnight to Mount Sinjar. “Only God knows how we carried the elderlies and the three disabled children through all those dangers in darkness,” Ashwaq’s father said in a soft tone.

Up to the moment, five brothers of Ashwaq are missing and her sister is still in IS captivity. Dozens of other family members, including uncles and aunts, are still suffering at the hand of IS. Some others were either rescued or bought back from IS.

Ashwaq’s story

Shwaq was born in 1999. She was only 15 years old when IS kidnapped her. They first drove her and other family members to Shaddadiya subdistrict in Syria. Ashwaq said they were put in a three-store building under watchful eyes of the IS militants. “The men were being kept in the first floor, the women and children in the second, and the third floor was apparently Daesh’s butchery,” she said.

“Right from the moment we arrived there, they took our belongings away. The took all our jewelry, money, cell phones, and personal documents. We were only given dirty water and stinky food.”

Ashwaq revealed that the second day after their arrival, in the evening, all the Yezidi captives were gathered outside the building and asked to convert to Islam. Ashwaq’s uncle agrees to convert provided that the IS militants would not hurt the women and children.

“So they brought sweets and started celebrating our conversion.”

The insurgent later put all the Yezidis in three buses. Men in one, old women and children in another, and young girls singled out onto the last bus. They drove them towards Sinjar, but the bus for the young girls stopped in Mosul and left all the girls in a hotel.

“One day, a Daesh militant called Abu Mohammed who came to use and took 18 girls, including me. We were moved to a large room with many men. One of them took his wallet out and paid some money to Abu Mohammed. We realised that he had just bought four of my sisters and one cousin. We were crying our hearts out, but for no vein. Later we learned that the same process was ongoing in the other rooms as well, and it was only us who had no right to make any decision.”

Ashwaq, one of her sisters, and ten other Yezidi girls were then remaining in the room. A while passed and the IS militants gathered about 100 girls from the hotel, moved them to Baaj district near the Syrian border in west of Mosul. “Another IS militant received us there and put all together in a building. His name was Abu Hilal. We were given new clothes and ordered to take a bath and change.”

Ashwaq said there was a Yezidi girl with them whose name was Jeilan. She was a college student of medicine who farewelled her sister before going to the bath, saying that she cannot accept IS militants even touching here.

“Soon there was her cold body laying on the floor of the bathroom. She had cut her hand. We were all crying and screaming when two men came and took her body away,” she added.

Everyday, according to Ashwaq, some girls were being taken away after the militants could find them buyers. Soon there was only Ashwaq and four other girls remaining in a school which the insurgents were using as a prison. Four men (Abu Humam Shar’i, Abu Hilal, Abu Anas, and Abu Asim), who were serving as the prison guards, bought the girls and moved them to their homes in Ramboose village. Ashwaq was taken by Abu Humam, forced to convert to Islam, pray everyday five times and memorise Quran in Arabic. “I did all that because he promised not to hurt me; but he abused me for more than 10 months every single day.”

A few months later when Abu Hilal was killed during a fight, the other four girls were given to Abu Anas. Ashwaq said she had managed to gain Abu Humam’s trust as he was sometimes leaving his belongings, including his cell phone, at home. “One day I talked to the other four girls and told them that we need to escape. I found Abu Humam’s cell phone at home and called my brother. He taught us a plan. The next day we all started scratching our hands and body, then we told Abu Humam and Abu Anas that the wounds are for some kind of skin allergy and we need to visit the doctor. He agreed and took us to a hospital, left us there and said he would pick us up later. We were given some kind of pills which my brother had said they will make the militants fall asleep if we put large dozes in their food,” Ashwaq recalled.

“The next day Abu Humam said his guests were visiting and we had to prepare food. I seized the opportunity to put all the pills in the food.”

Ashwaq and the other four girls managed to put 17 men into sound asleep, lock the doors and escape the ordeal in the darkness of the night. They walked about 14 hours to finally reach Mount Sinjar where thousands of Yezidis had already found safety.

Meeting Abu Humam again, this time in Germany

After her escape, Ashwaq reunited with some members of her family. She, together with her mother and two of her brothers, moved to Germany in June 2015 as part of a humanitarian program. She soon starts learning German language, and starts school. The program provides her with medical care to heal from her psychological traumas from IS captivity.

“A day in 2016, I was going back home from school when I felt a man was following me. I did not look at his face carefully, but I was scared. He followed me until I entered the refugee camp. I immediately told my mother, but she ensured me that everything will be fine. She said: this is Germany and no one could ever hurt you,” Ashwaq remembered.

The Yezidi girl continued her normal life until early 2018 when she was stopped by a man on her way back home. “Someone stopped me, on 21st February this year. I froze when I looked at his face carefully. It was Abu Humam, with the same scaring beard and ugly face. I was speechless when he started speaking in German, asking ‘You’re Ashwaq, aren’t you?”

Ashwaq replayed “No”.

“Yes, you are Ashwaq and you know me very well. I am Abu Humam and you were with me for a while in Mosul. And I know where you live, with whom you live, and what you are doing,” Ashwaq narrated Abu Humam in Germany.

Ashwaq ran away and entered a nearby market, watching her abuser until she was certain that Abu Humam had already left. She went back home and told her brother about what she had seen. The next day she went to the camp manager and the police was informed. After some time of questioning, the police checked the market’s CCTV and identified the man in the footage.

“The police told me that he is also a refugee, just like me, and that they could not do anything about it. They just gave me a phone number that I could contact in case Abu Humam ever stopped me. After this response, I decided to return to Kurdistan and never go back to Germany,” Ashwaq said.

A few questions for the Germans

Ashwaq’s story is a heartbreaking one with a fearful ending that leads us to many questions. I am a journalist who is very well aware of the military and humanitarian aid the German government has so far offered the Kurdistan Region and its people. Germany has proven its friendly ties with the Kurdistan Region during the past four years of the war against IS, and the Kurds are all grateful for that. I am also a keen fan of German football team, but I cannot leave the following questions without finding them an answer: are the laws related to human rights in Germany beyond logic that they restrict you from persecuting a barbaric terrorist of the Islamic State? Aren’t you worried about the Abu Humams who have disguised themselves as refugees to pose a serious threat to your country once they find the chance? What the Yezidi girls should do when the IS terrorists target them, no matter if they are in Mosul or in Germany?

I wish, at least, the German Consulate in Erbil could follow this story up and find an answer to those questions.

‘Only bones remain’: shattered Yazidis fear returning home
The Observer, Iraq

Last week the BBC’s Lyse Doucet broadcast the fate of a community at Isis’s hands. She recounts the stories she heard
by Lyse Doucet, 9 Sep 2018

Yazidis fleeing their towns for Mount Sinjar as Islamic State forces advanced on them four years ago. Photograph: Rodi Said/Reuters

A generator sputters into life and men in farmers’ trousers spray water on muddy tractors as the sun slips from a late summer sky. On this most ordinary of village days in a northern corner of Iraq, 20-year-old Bafrin Shivan Amo perches on a metal cot bed to speak of the most hellish of times.

“They raped me every day, twice or more,” she recounts with remarkable composure. “I was just a child,” she says in her soft steady voice. “I can never forget it.”

Bafrin shares her story, as hard as that is, because she wants the world to hear what happened to her and nearly 7,000 other Yazidi women enslaved for years by the fighters of the barbaric Islamic State group. The world, her tiny community believes, has forgotten them.

Four years ago, when Isis fighters swept into the furthest reaches of Iraq, images of desperate people stranded on a mountainside in the Yazidi heartland, dying of dehydration and hunger, sparked alarm and compassion for an ancient culture few had heard of. Helicopters were dispatched to drop food and water on the barren slopes of Mount Sinjar and to pull to safety the small number of people who managed to scramble on board.

Now a stubborn scar stains the cluster of towns and villages in the foothills of the Yazidis’ sacred mountain. Streets lie in ghostly silence, broken hulks of houses are still peppered with the bombs and booby-traps laid by Isis before they were pushed out of this area three years ago by Kurdish forces backed by US-led airstrikes. Hundreds of thousands of Yazidis are now scattered in displacement camps across this northern region, unable and unwilling to go home, and uncertain where to turn for help.

Few aid agencies are on the ground here and Yazidis are left in limbo, caught in disputes between the local Kurdish administration and the central government in Baghdad. That affects the delivery of aid as well as security for a population still profoundly fearful that Isis will return.

“I cannot go back to my own village,” Bafrin says as we sit in the farmyard in the baking heat, a dark blue scarf with a sparkling trim framing her broad face. She chooses not to hide her face, or her name, as she tells a story which, like the accounts of many Yazidi women, is beyond anyone’s imagination. “There is no hope there will ever be life in my village. There are only bones of the dead.”

Her village is Kocho, only a short drive away. In the vast catalogue of Isis’s war crimes, Kocho set a new bar for brutality. About 400 men, the entire male population, were rounded up, shot or beheaded. Old women were killed and dumped in mass graves, younger ones sold in markets as sex slaves, boys turned into child soldiers.

In that fateful summer of 2014, Bafrin was outside Kocho and tried to make her way to Mount Sinjar, along with the tens of thousands of others who fled there in a blind panic to escape Isis’s assault on a people it scorned as “devil worshippers”.

Yazidis believe Mount Sinjar, a massif spanning the border area between Iraq and Syria, has always been their only protector. They see it as the guardian of their long-persecuted faith, a monotheistic religion with Zoroastrian roots, which also draws on Christianity and Islam.

Gazal was released by her captors after she managed to contact her family, who raised a ransom for her. Photograph: David Bull/BBC

Isis fighters captured Bafrin and her three brothers on the road, just south of Mount Sinjar, and locked her away, initially with several of her young female friends from Kocho.

In her pain, there was also strength and a sense of purpose. “Every day I was held captive, I grew stronger,” she says. “I took every chance I could to try to escape and promised myself that I would never give up, because, in the end, either I would be killed by my captors or be free.”

When the second fighter who enslaved her was killed in a suicide bombing, she wrapped herself in black clothing, scrambled over a wall, and found her way to a house in the Iraqi city of Mosul, which was also then in Isis’s choking grip. Strangers opened the door to a frightened woman on the run, kept her for days, then sold her back to her family.

Thirty-five members of her extended family are still missing. “My brothers are probably dead,” she admits reluctantly. “But we still live in hope.

“Once I was free, I felt reborn. But I can’t feel free while 3,000 Yazidi women and children are still in captivity, in a situation far worse than mine.”

While Isis fighters have been pushed from the cities that once formed their vaunted caliphate, some are still at large, on the edges of villages and in the desert expanses.

One by one, after years of torment, some Yazidi women are coming home as Isis discards some of its slaves – usually for the payment of large sums of money arranged through smugglers.

“I didn’t believe it would ever happen,” a visibly exhausted Gazal says, on her first day at home after her family raised tens of thousands of dollars from relatives and neighbours to free her from captors who had sequestered her in Syria.

Her fetching nine-year-old daughter Dalia shadows her in silence; a bewildered little girl’s staring eyes tell of her horror. “They beat me around the face, and they beat my little girl. They beat all my four children. I was so scared for them,” Gazal says.

The beatings have frozen one side of her face, a paralysis which extends down her arm. But even with tired eyes drained of any sparkle, her relief is palpable. She had thought her ordeal would never end.

“Isis lied to me,” she recalls, her voice more trenchant. “They said our families would kill us if we tried to come home so I was scared to come back. But I was so surprised at the welcome I got.”

In a mobile phone video of their first moments together, a sobbing Gazal is enveloped in the tight embrace of her mother and sisters. Her knees give way and she drops to the floor, overwhelmed by the emotion of reunion and relief.

Sylvana, aged six, was rescued from organ traffickers and reunited with her family. Photograph: BBC

She had waited for what must have seemed an eternity before trying to reach her relatives: another Yazidi girl had secretly kept a phone, and Gazal finally summoned the courage to send voice messages to her family, who then contacted smugglers.

Within days of coming home, Gazal travels to the holiest Yazidi temple in Lalish, a cluster of shrines with distinctive conical roofs, nestled in a mountain valley. Like all women enslaved by Islamic State fighters, she is showered with water in a ritual seen as washing her clean of her past in the eyes of her community. Without this, she would not have been accepted back.

Concern for the plight of Yazidi women, and the need for expert counselling, led some countries, including Australia, Germany and Canada, to offer refuge to a limited number of women, as well as family members.

Every Yazidi family speaks of wanting to leave, and everyone is looking for loved ones. At the small Office of the Kidnapped, set up by the community in the nearby Iraqi town of Duhok, the director, Hussein al-Qaidi, speaks in a voice that booms loudly like a megaphone, as if to broadcast to anyone who will listen.

“No one is helping us,” he says. “If this was happening somewhere else, all the world would be helping. Aren’t we human too, don’t we deserve better than this?”

Aid came at first from the Kurdish prime minister’s office to help pay the hefty ransoms that are often demanded, but those funds are drying up. Bigger agencies, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations, are making some effort to help trace people, particularly children, who have been lost in camps or orphanages, or sold to families, but it is a sensitive and complex business.

“It’s been four years and we haven’t seen our parents,” say Adiba and Asia, two women in their 20s who escaped captivity. They have lost eight family members in all – parents, grandparents, two aunts, two brothers. We meet in a tidy lane in a Yazidi displacement camp – a well-tended warren that the families have tried to make their own by planting trees, lush green gardens of mint and other herbs, even striking yellow sunflowers.

This family came to the attention of Sally Becker, the British charity worker who made a name for herself in the 1980s during the Bosnian conflict by crossing front lines and circumventing bureaucracies to rescue injured children.

The ruins of Sinjar town, photographed in 2016. Photograph: Alessandro Rota for the Guardian

Using her contacts in the Yazidi community, she is now on a mission with her small charity, Road to Peace, to make the search for Yazidi children a greater priority.

“This is my first lead out of about 1,700 children still missing,” she says, sharing a photograph of four-year-old Sabir, the two young women’s nephew, who was taken from his mother into Isis captivity when he was only nine months old.

Adiba and Asia’s six-year-old sister Sylvana sits with them. She narrowly escaped the clutches of organ traffickers who smuggled her to neighbouring Turkey. “They tried to take my kidney but a doctor stole me from the hospital,” she whispers, in a child’s hesitant account of a journey that finally took her back to Iraq, where her sisters managed to find her.

Becker warns: “If more isn’t done more quickly to locate missing children in camps and orphanages, more children could end up being trafficked like Sylvana.”

There is a sense of urgency and impatience. Yazidi families know that some of the answers they need lie buried in the shallow mass graves that litter these blighted lands.

In Kocho, only a few soldiers, and flimsy strands of mesh fencing, stand guard over the killing fields there. The silence is broken only by the whistle of the winds, which have already exposed some bones and bits of tattered clothing. A year ago, the UN security council unanimously passed a resolution, spearheaded by Britain, authorising a team to gather evidence of Isis crimes, including the exhumation of mass graves.

“People are losing hope,” says Farhan Dakheel of Yazda, a global organisation that has been helping to document what the UN is calling a genocide. “So many Yazidis tell me that if nothing happens this year, they will dig for the bodies themselves.”

Last week, the first UN team was on site with an Iraqi medical unit, taking blood samples from survivors of another village close to Mount Sinjar.

“It’s just the beginning,” Farhan says cautiously, in a tone that underlines the Yazidis’ fear that they will never be anyone’s priority.

Lyse Doucet is the BBC’s chief international correspondent

Traumatized Yazidi women face nightmarish healing process. Here's what Canadians can do to help.
By Jenny Uechi in News | October 5th 2018

This morning, Nadia Murad, a Yazidi woman from Iraq who was forced into sexual slavery by the Islamic State, won the Nobel Peace Prize along with Congolese gynecologist and surgeon Denis Mukwege for "their efforts to end use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict."

It was a profound moment of recognition for the sexual violence perpetrated against Iraq's Yazidi minority. Over 6,000 women and girls were taken captive by Daesh (Islamic State) fighters, and many remain in captivity. They were forced into domestic and sexual servitude, passed from owner to owner like chattel across Iraq and Syria. Some, he said, were as young as nine and were raped up to 20 times daily.

The Yazidi women were described as "the most traumatized group yet to be admitted" to Canada.

In Canada, Rev. Majed El Shafie, a former Egyptian refugee and human rights advocate, has been working to aid Yazidi women by lobbying Ottawa resettle them in Canada, getting support from MPs across party lines, including Conservative Michelle Rempel and NDP MP Jenny Kwan.
Photo of Rev. Majeed El Shafie in Vancouver on September 28, 2018, by Jenny Uechi

His organization, the Toronto-based One Free World International, has also worked to free female Yazidi captives directly by bartering to help women escape from captors into safe havens. The organization also helps victims of IS overcome trauma once they arrive in Canada.

"These women are survivors — not just victims," said El Shafie, speaking at the Vancouver General Hospital to a room full of doctors and nurses who had gathered for a talk organized by the Vancouver-based Women Refugees Advocacy Project on September 28.

Although the Canadian government resettled 1,300 Yazidis who were former captives of Islamic State, settlement workers have struggled in the face of the extreme suffering they suffered before coming here. El Shafie stressed that when it comes to Yazidi women and children, mental health support is as urgent and essential as providing shelter.

Flashbacks and nightmares

As El Shafie spoke, a thin, long-haired woman in a brown leather jacket wiped away tears. Adiba, a Yazidi woman who was in IS captivity and sold roughly six times over the course of a year by different male captors, arrived in Canada in 2016, and was still dealing with the psychological damage of sexual violence.

Her experiences were a prime example of how Yazidi women struggled in Canada due to misunderstandings.

Several months after arriving, Adiba had a breakdown at home and was taken to the Mackenzie Richmond Hill Hospital in Ontario. El Shafie remembers rushing to the hospital after calls for help, and was horrified to find Adiba being restrained to a bed, surrounded by male security guards.

"They'd tied Adiba's hands and feet to the bed," El Shafie said. "Each hand was tied, each leg was tied, with 10 men around. That's exactly what ISIS used to do before they raped her."

"I didn't think it was proper to do this with me, because of my experience," Adiba commented afterward, her eyes downcast. "They gave me injections that made it so that I couldn't stand up properly for a week." She and El Shafie felt that if she had been allowed to have her family in her room, and female nurses had approached her instead, she would not have panicked or feared for her life.

Eventually, El Shafie was able to get Adiba into weekly therapy sessions with three female psychologists, and has not had another meltdown since last year.

"Every week, I feel I'm getting better, I feel I'm getting stronger," Adiba said. She reiterated that she was comfortable speaking one-on-one with a female psychologist about her rape and captivity, but wouldn't feel the same with a male doctor.

When doctors asked El Shafie what they could have done differently, he said because her information sheet said she was a victim of war from Iraq, they could have considered the likelihood that she had been raped, and de-escalated the situation.

Although the federal government says refugees and asylum claimants have "basic coverage for mental health services" under the Interim Federal Health Program, getting Yazidi and other refugees mental health care is still a challenge. Yazidis are a minority whose language, Kurmanji Kurdish, is not spoken by many experts in Canada.

"Many survivors of Daesh have experienced significant mental and physical trauma," Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada spokesperson Shannon Ker told National Observer in an email. "To assist Service Provider Organizations with the settlement and integration needs of this population, the Department developed a Yazidi population profile detailing demographic, health and cultural considerations of this vulnerable population that was shared with the settlement organizers."

She said some government is working with settlement services to "meet the very acute needs of survivors of Daesh (IS)," with one group in Winnipeg, the Aurora Family Therapy Centre, developing a program specifically for the Yazidi program. According to a recent report, therapy sessions were arranged for Yazidi women and children in Toronto.

But Yazidi women often spend their first months in Canada without anyone ever introducing them to such help. El Shafie stressed that Yazidis aren't going to look up mental health clinics and knock on their door, given the challenges they face adjusting to a new country where they don't know the language.

Children often recover faster than adult women, even though it may take years. Dilveen, a Yazidi girl who courageously escaped her captor by mixing sleeping pills in his drink, now goes to school in Toronto. She speaks English, goes to school and is adjusting well to her surroundings.

Video documentary by CBC on Dilveen, an 11-year-old former Yazidi captive who now lives as a refugee with her family in Canada
The unique problem of sexual slavery

Much has been written about the struggle of Yazidi refugees to resettle.

A March 16 New York Times article about the Yazidi refugees included a quote from a Calgary-based refugee worker, who was a refugee himself and had spent years working to settle vulnerable newcomers. He'd worked with people from Kosovar Albanians to Burmese Karens to Thai refugee camps and Syrians displaced by the civil war.

But "nothing prepared him for the Yazidis," it said. Stories about what the Yazidis went through were so disturbing for resettlement workers that some are forced to seek treatment themselves to cope with vicarious trauma. The Yazidi women were described as "the most traumatized group yet to be admitted" to Canada.

El Shafie pointed to a three-pronged problem which he saw as unique to the Yazidi experience.

"The problem is the act of rape itself. Sex slavery means being sold 16, 17, 18 times. Some of the girls will be used as prostitutes," El Shafie said. "They will be forced to have sex with men around 20 times a night. Many of these girls will commit suicide. They will not be able to function without proper mental health care."

He said another, troubling problem is the lack of support and understanding from society. He remembers being infuriated by some people from the local community asking him why he is helping "ISIS hookers," as though the women had voluntarily agreed to sexual slavery.

The last problem, he said, was so-called "honour-killing," in which family members who bring shame to a family are killed — in the vast majority of cases, female victims are killed by a male family member. "Before we return the girls to their families, we have to really test the family to see if they would accept the girl back or not," El Shafie said.

He recalls a story of finding a young Yazidi woman captured by IS, and calling her brother, the lone survivor in her family, to ask if how he would react if he learned she were alive. The brother told him he would have to kill his sister, to restore the family's honour. El Shafie was indignant. "I told him, as a man, if you were the one who was taken as a sex slave, would you say the same thing?" Because of her brother's reaction, he had to take the woman to a safe home, rather than reunite her with her family.

"In many cases, the survivors come back with children. We had a woman in Canada who was pregnant from ISIS fighters, and she wanted to keep her child. People told her it was the son of the devil. But children don't carry the sins of the father. We can't blame the child. If the mother chose to get an abortion or take him to adoption, that would be completely her choice, but she wanted keep the child," El Shafie said. "We had to intervene because the community completely isolated her."
Yazidi women's extreme trauma and urgent need for mental health care

Part of the process of healing, El Shafie said, was to acknowledge the problem of rape suffered by Yazidi women, and to deal with it properly so that they could move forward in life.

One day several years ago in Iraqi Kurdistan, El Shafie was in a room with recently freed Yazidi captives. He was struck by the young age of one of the ex-captives, who said she was just nine years old and repeatedly raped by adults. El Shafie was asked by her mother not to get too close to her, because the girl was would start screaming if any male figure approached.

Shaken by the sight of the girl, El Shafie went outside to clear his thoughts. When he came back inside, he went on his knees in front of the women and apologized on behalf of his gender, for the abuse that had been inflicted on them by other men.

"Afterward, I felt a little hand on my back. It was this nine-year-old girl," El Shafie recalled. "All she needed to hear was [for a man to say] 'I'm sorry' to start the healing process."

In the years since, he has tried to stress the importance of psychological care for refugees, to help remove the stigma of sexual assault and of mental health treatment.

"We have to reassure the women and re-educate them that there is no shame in talking about this," he said. "There are 45 Yazidi families in Canada. We sat down with some of them and talked about the importance of mental health care. We told them, 'if you get hurt in your arm, why would you go to the doctor? When your soul gets hurt, where do you go?' Same concept."

"We can't expect government to do everything," he said. "Many people will tell you the Canadian government has let the Yazidi community down. Maybe that's true. But not the Canadian people. I saw the bus driver who took a Yazidi refugee family for their first ride and refused to take payment. I saw the cab driver, the babysitter, the neighbour who went and brought food. I saw people who gave them clothes and furniture. I saw the psychologists who took their time to see the women. I saw nurses who just finished a long shift —like 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. — and yet they still come to see the Yazidi women to make sure they are fine."

But he says Canada must deal with the mental health wellness of its Yazidi refugees today if they are to live full lives contributing to society tomorrow. "If the government is smart enough, let's deal with the issue today," he said. "So we don't spend millions in the future. Solving the problem right now will resolve it in the future."

Advocates urge more support for Yazidi refugees suffering seizures from PTSD

CBC, Dec 7, 2018

Trauma from being captured by ISIS results in psychogenic non-epileptic seizures
Cameron MacLean · CBC News · Posted: Dec 08, 2018 6:00 AM CT | Last Updated: 5 hours ago
Yazidi refugee Faeza Mejo has suffered from a seizure-like condition ever since she was captured and sold into slavery by ISIS in August 2014. (Cameron MacLean/CBC)

The blackout spells always come with the same feeling — Faeza Mejo feels as though she's trying to scream for help, but someone or something is holding her back.

As It Happens
Yazidi refugees in Canada suffering PTSD-related seizures need their families: doctor

She then loses all awareness of her surroundings, sometimes for hours. To outside observers, she appears to be having a seizure. She thrashes, clutches at her throat, kicks and punches herself and anything else around her. This happens several times a week.

Mejo's experience mirrors that of many other Yazidi women who were held captive and sold as sex slaves by ISIS militants.

"They think that it's like a dream, that somebody is attacking them. They're fresh in their mind, going back [to] what happened to them while they were captive by ISIS," said Hadji Hesso, director of the Yazidi Association of Manitoba.
Hadji Hesso, director of the Yazidi Association of Manitoba, says 15 out of 500 Yazidis in Winnipeg suffer from pseudoseizures. (Cameron MacLean/CBC)

The episodes are called psychogenic non-epileptic seizures, or pseudoseizures. They mimic the symptoms of a grand mal seizure, but instead of being caused a malfunction in the brain, they are brought on by severe psychological trauma.

Doctors have scanned Mejo's brain and found no signs of epilepsy. She has been prescribed medication and is going to therapy, but nothing has helped.
Condition caused by trauma

The condition is rare, affecting between two and 33 people per 100,000, according to Dr. José F. Téllez Zenteno, a neurologist and professor at the University of Saskatchewan. Hesso said that, out of the roughly 500 Yazidi people living in Winnipeg, 15 suffer from pseudoseizures.

Canada has taken in roughly 1,400 victims of ISIS, including Yazidis, according to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.
Yazidi refugee women stand behind a banner as they wait for the arrival of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Special Envoy Angelina Jolie at a Syrian and Iraqi refugee camp in the southern Turkish town of Midyat in Mardin province, Turkey, June 20, 2015. (Umit Bektas/Reuters)

Support groups and doctors working with the Yazidi population here say they need mental health treatment in their first language and the ability to reunite with their families, who may be left behind in refugee camps.

"What we do know about these psychogenic non-epileptic seizures is, usually they are triggered by a strong emotional response," said Dr. Annalee Coakley ​during an interview with CBC's As It Happens. Coakley is a medical director with Calgary's Mosaic Refugee Health Clinic who has worked with Yazidi refugees in that city.

"I believe this government has a compassionate heart, and I hope they use that compassion to reunite these families."
Calls for change

The federal government has a one-year window policy during which refugees can sponsor family members who were believed to be dead, but later found alive. Opposition politicians and refugee advocates have pushed the government to extend that window and speed up the processing of claims for Yazidi refugees.

They have also called on the government to expand the definition of immediate family members beyond parents, children and siblings, to reflect the broader meaning that family has for Yazidis.

Yazidi refugee woman urges government for help navigating new world

"When we're talking about Yazidi families, we need to think beyond the extended notion of mom, dad and children," said Fadi Ennab, manager of the community wellness program at Mount Carmel Clinic in Winnipeg. "We need to think of their bigger network of support who could be just like their families if they were missing in a war situation. So uncles, aunties, siblings all those could be part of your family."

Ennab also wants the government to make it easier for family members to privately sponsor their relatives to come to Canada.

Even for someone who is financially independent and has had a reliable income for years, it can be difficult to sponsor a family member, he said. Achieving that independence would take a while for a newcomer refugee who can't even speak English.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada said there are fewer than five Yazidis waiting under the one-year window application system.

"In light of the unique challenges faced by this population, and to further support family reunification for this cohort, the Department will develop eligibility criteria and implement a temporary extension of the one-year window provision for immediate family members of survivors of Daesh [ISIS] resettled under the government's original commitment," the statement said.
Refugees need supports

Mejo, 21, now lives in Winnipeg with her family. In August 2014, she was captured when ISIS attacked her home community in the Sinjar Mountains in northern Iraq. In what has since been declared a genocide, the militants separated men from women, executing the men and enslaving the women and children.

Mejo was sold 15 times before U.S.-led forces rescued her in 2017. While she was in captivity, she gave birth to a son.

She was eventually reunited with her parents and the family came to Canada as government-sponsored refugees.

Lori Wilkinson, a sociologist at the University of Manitoba, conducted a study on Yazidi refugees in urban centres across Canada. She said they are particularly vulnerable in Canada because they were already severely marginalized in their home country.

Boy who endured three years as ISIL captive asks for meeting with Justin Trudeau

"They haven't been allowed to go to school, and if they have gone to school, they've only finished, say, equivalent of Grade 5, Grade 6 in Canada," she said.

Many of those who have gone to school didn't receive education in their native language of Kurmanji, but rather in Arabic.

"And so you're certainly not functionally literate in your own language and now you're coming to place in Canada and you're asked to learn English, that's going to be a challenge…. Their first task is to get better mentally before they can learn a new language."

In the House of Commons on Wednesday, Conservative Immigration Critic Michelle Rempel brought forward a vote to adopt a report by the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration which recommends the government expand access to mental health services in Kurmanji.

Rempel said this is important because language differences can make it difficult for Yazidi refugees to accurately describe their trauma.

"For example, one family in Calgary that I know well, one of the women was describing one of her children as crazy, like that was the word she was using," but in Kurmanji, the word she used would more accurately translate as chronically depressed, Rempel said.
Hesso hopes that with the right support, Mejo and other former ISIS captives can start to forget the trauma of what happened to them. (Cameron MacLean/CBC)

Hesso hopes the government will step up to help the women like Mejo who continue to suffer even after escaping from ISIS.

"They all should be receiving same quality trauma therapy and whatever that we can do to make them better and to be part of this society and to forget what happened to them," he said.

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