Yazidi groups say they were left in the dark on Canada's resettlement plan
Tight-knit Yazidi communities are clustered primarily in Winnipeg and London, Ont.
Yazidi groups in Canada say they've been kept in the dark on the government's resettlement plan despite the critical role they could play in supporting the new arrivals.
On Tuesday, Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen held a news conference to unveil a government plan to resettle 1,200 Yazidis and other victims of ISIS by the end of 2017, saying that nearly 400 had already arrived. Of those, about 74 per cent are Yazidi.
The Yazidis are a religious minority with an ancient 6,000-year-old culture, based mainly in northern Iraq.
Hadji Hesso of the Canadian Yazidi Association is part of a close-knit network of advocates who keep in regular contact. He says he did not hear of any government-sponsored arrivals before the last few days.
"We have no way of knowing where those people are or how they were brought in. It's a mystery to us," he said.
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The government has been tight-lipped on the resettlement steps, and would say only that the Yazidis are expected to settle in cities in Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario and possibly other provinces.
The operation, which began four months ago after MPs unanimously adopted a Conservative motion to bring in Yazidis, has been kept under tight wraps due to security and privacy issues, according to the government.
Prior to the government's initiative, most of the small, tight-knit Yazidi population in Canada has been clustered in Winnipeg and London, Ont., with some in the Toronto area as well.
Hesso, who's based in Winnipeg, wonders how and why hundreds of Yazidis were brought in without their knowledge, and questioned why the government did not seek the community's resettlement assistance.
"We are a small minority, almost everyone knows everyone," he said, adding that they want to help, and would actually take pressure off the government.
Hesso, a Yazidi from northern Iraq who lived as a refugee in Syria for a decade before coming to Canada in 2000, welcomed the government's initiative to provide asylum to the vulnerable survivors of ISIS.
"That means 1,200 will be in a safe zone, and it will call on other nations to do something," he said.
In Toronto, the executive director of an organization running a project to privately sponsor Yazidi refugees was also wondering why so many were left out of the loop, calling the process "untransparent" and "cloak and dagger."
In an interview on CBC News Network's Power & Politics, Mozuud executive director Geoffrey Clarfield said the community of advocates and activists is plugged-in to the Yazidi-Canadian community, yet no one had heard about the arrivals.
He said the secrecy may not be in the best interest of Yazidis in Iraq or Canada.
"The understanding of the government is that they're supposed to be integrated into the community so if the community leaders don't know who they are and where they are, it's puzzling," he told host Rosemary Barton.
An official in Hussen's office said a key factor in determining where individuals will go once in Canada is whether or not they already have family here.
That means multiple communities across Canada are welcoming survivors of ISIS in addition to the larger centres, with one or two people settling in one community while other centres will welcome larger numbers, the official said.
Canada declared the ISIS persecution of the Yazidis a genocide last June, after a United Nations report confirmed militants were seeking to destroy the community of 400,000 people through killings, sexual slavery and other crimes.
The report said the Islamist militants had been systematically rounding up Yazidis since August 2014, seeking to "erase their identity," a finding that meets the definition of genocide as defined under the 1948 Genocide Convention.
With files from Brennan MacDonald