October 25, 2016 1:03 pm
Updated: October 26, 2016 7:26 am

Who are the Yazidis and why is Canada bringing them in?

Interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose discussed on Tuesday a proposed Conservative motion to provide Yazidi refugees with preferential asylum in Canada, focusing on women and girls affected by ISIS human-trafficking.

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The House of Commons will vote today on Calgary MP Michelle Rempel’s bid to rescue Yazidi people — a Kurdish-speaking religious minority — from persecution in Iraq and Syria.

“The genocide continues unabated,” interim Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose said hours before the vote. “Thousands of Yazidi women and girls are being held as slaves by ISIS. They are raped, mutilated and sold on open slave markets.”

Ambrose and Rempel on Tuesday described Yazidi women and girls as “the most vulnerable” of the refugee crisis in Iraq.

WATCH: Lethbridge, Alta., MP Rachael Harder recently returned from a fact-finding trip to northern Iraq. She says Canada needs to do more to protect some of the most vulnerable people in that country, the Yazidi women. 


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In June, a United Nations human rights panel concluded that ISIS is committing genocide against Yazidis. But the ongoing persecution by ISIS of members of the ancient religious groups living in Iraq stretches back years.

Why ISIS is targeting Yadizis

In August 2014, ISIS launched a mission to “purify” Iraq and bordering areas. The attack focused on Yazidis, who Islamic State militants label as enemies because of their non-Islamic religious views.

Thousands were murdered. And of those who survived, many were taken hostage, used as sex slaves and tortured.

ISIS militants are not the first to target Yazidis; members of the group, often referred to as a sect, have been victim to abuse and discrimination for centuries. In fact, some Yazidis claim the religious group has survived 72 genocides throughout the centuries.

Their religious beliefs borrow from one of the oldest religions, Zoroastrianism, as well as Islam, Christianity and Judaism. Yazidis understand one god created the world, placing it in the care of seven holy beings or angels.

The reverence for fallen angel Malek Tawwus and belief in reincarnation, rather than heaven or hell, has led to many outsiders labeling Yazidis “devil worshipers.”

WATCH: Yazidis travel back to Sinjar mountains to find relatives left behind

What is Canada doing?

Rempel has helped shine a light on the ongoing plight of the ethnic and religious minority group, asking the Liberal government to prioritize Yazidi women and girls in the refugee system.

“While the government has certainly admitted more than 30,000 Syrian refugees, the reality is that departmental officials told a parliamentary committee that only nine Yazidi refugee cases have been processed,” Rempel said last week in the Commons while defending her opposition motion.

READ MORE: Canada to welcome Yazidi refugees within months, says immigration minister

“Further, many Yazidis are not Syrian refugees. Most of them originate in Iraq.”

Estimates peg the Yazidi population of Iraq at around 650,000 and of Syria at about 70,000.

Immigration Minister John McCallum on Monday told the House of Commons his department has already dispatched a group to Iraq tasked with assessing the state of affairs for Yezidis and beginning work required to bring some over to Canada.

WATCH: Ambrose demands Liberals to help Yazidi women held as ISIS sex slaves

The minister assured the House that the Liberals intend to back the Conservative motion to provide more support for the group. In the same breath, however, the minister cautioned the task won’t be easy, since Yazidis have been caught up in isolated combat zones.

WATCH: A news anchor and reporter from a Kurdish television station were overcome with emotion during a broadcast on the plight of the Yazidi people in Iraq. 

Still, McCallum said, he has identified the Yazidis as a priority for the government. And though he stopped short of committing to a target number to bring in, he’s committed to a time frame of no more than 120 days, as laid out in the Conservative motion.

“It is not easy to bring the Yazidis here from the places where they are, but my department has sent an expedition out to the terrain and we are committed to bring them in within, as the motion says, 120 days or less,” he told the Commons during question period Monday.

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