Yazidi refugee efforts in Winnipeg slow despite calls for feds to act

The Winnipeg Jewish community has raised more than $250,000 to bring seven families of Yazidi refugees to the city, but the process remains slow — despite calls for the federal government to step up relocation efforts for displaced Yazidi people.

National group calls for help for Yazidis while local groups raise thousands to privately sponsor

The Winnipeg Jewish community is helping bring two Yazidi refugee families to the city. The Shaarey Zedek Synagogue has privately sponsored two families so far with the hope of bringing four more families in the future. 2:39

The Jewish community in Winnipeg has raised more than $250,000 to bring seven families of Yazidi refugees to the city, but the process remains slow — despite calls for the federal government to step up relocation efforts for displaced Yazidi people.

The Shaarey Zedek Synagogue​'s Yazidi rescue committee and Jewish Child and Family Services in Winnipeg have faced long delays to bring in the families from Turkish refugee camps.

"We would like the process to move faster once those applications have been approved so that families don't have to wait several months in a refugee camp, living in one tent, waiting for approval to get on a plane and come here," said Lorne Weiss, the co-chair of the committee.

Weiss said there has been a months-long wait just to get the travel documents the families require. So far the two groups have raised about $30,000 of the $90,000 needed to sponsor the first two families to be relocated in Winnipeg.

Nafiya Naso is working with the Jewish community to help bring Yazidi refugees to Manitoba. She came to Winnipeg as a Yazidi refugee herself 14 years ago.

Naso said she's touched by the support from the Jewish community to help bring some of these families to Winnipeg.

"It's an amazing feeling...I don't have the words to express what I'm feeling right now." Naso said.

Naso said she knows what it's like to live in refugee camps in Turkey and said the conditions the women and children are facing in those camps are deteriorating.

She said she would like to see more help from the federal government.

"At the end of the day we're only sponsoring seven families and we hope to sponsor more, to get more people involved, but we can only do so much in Winnipeg." Naso said.

On Tuesday, One Free World International, a religious freedoms group, called on the federal Liberals to do more to protect Yazidi women.

The group laid out a plan to bring 400 Yazidi families living in refugee camps in Kurdistan to Canada, but officials with the group said the plan was ignored.

In 2014, about 40,000 Yazidis were forced to flee a city in northern Iraq after it was captured by ISIS. Thousands of Yazidi people were killed, and many women and girls were sold into slavery.

Now, many of those who escaped the attacks are in refugee camps in Turkey. 

The federal government recently OKed the arrival of 25,000 Syrian refugees, and One Free World International is arguing the feds have simultaneously turned their back on the Yazidis.

According to government officials, they are working with both Winnipeg-based rescue groups to get more Yazidi refugees to Canada through the private sponsor system.

'What we really need is money'

Weiss said the city's Jewish community wants to help because they feel they share a similar history with the Yazidi people.

"We see them as having a great deal of need. This is a race of people who are on the verge of extinction because of what they believe in, not because of what they do," Weiss said.

He said the synagogue's committee has been raising funds to help bring the families to Winnipeg since last November.

"Because they're private refugees, the government requires that we raise a certain amount of money for each, basically almost like a head tax for each individual that's coming over," said Weiss. "We are required to raise some place in the $90,000 to support [two families] in their first year."

He said they already have enough household items and clothing for all seven of the families, thanks to donations from the community.

"What we really need now is money," he said.

Arrangements are still being made to find the seven families privately owned rental units in the city.

Jewish Child and Family Services hopes to have at least two of the families in Winnipeg within the next 30 days.

A Yazidi refugee woman from Iraq holds her child shortly after arriving on a vessel from the Turkish coast to a Greek island in 2015. A Winnipeg synagogue has waited more than six months trying to bring two Yazidi families to Canada. (Associated Press/Muhammed Muheisen)

with files from The Canadian Press