The federal government is committing to take urgent steps to bring Yazidi refugees to Canada within four months.
During question period Monday, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister John McCallum announced that Liberals will support a wide-ranging motion from the Opposition Conservatives to help survivors of ISIS genocide.
The vote is set to take place in the House of Commons tomorrow, and McCallum said he hopes it will pass unanimously given the "gravity" of the situation.
McCallum, who recently dispatched a team of officials to northern Iraq on a fact-finding expedition, conceded it's "not easy" to bring people out of the region, but insisted the government will act with urgency.
"We have committed to do this, and it will be done," he said.
The officials, who returned home a few days ago, interviewed potential refugees and spoke with international stakeholders and specialists on the ground.
McCallum did not specify how many Yazidis will be brought to Canada — and under what time frame — given logistical difficulties on the ground and what is effectively a "war" in Mosul.
"We are looking into all of the options. We will do so as quickly as possible," he said. "We agree with the Conservative Party that this is a matter of high priority and we are working on it as we speak."
The Opposition motion, tabled by Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel, calls 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.
Rempel said she is pleased the government will support the motion and "finally" act after wasting precious time. She urged the minister to present a clear commitment to the number of Yazidis who will be brought to Canada under the government's protection.
The development comes after a Yazidi woman who escaped ISIS wrote to MPs imploring them to "give hope to the hopeless."
Nadia Murad Basee Taha, who was abducted and held as an ISIS sex slave, is in Ottawa to meet with MPs and to observe tomorrow's vote.
"From the bottom of my heart, I ask you to help," she wrote. "At this time, the most immediate way you can help us is by agreeing on this bipartisan motion which will recognize the genocide and support the relocation of less than 2,000 Yazidis — women and girls who survived enslavement, and their families."
She is set to take part in a news conference with interim Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose tomorrow.
Taha went on to say the Yazidi people have been nearly destroyed by ISIS.
'Give hope to the hopeless'
"We have no choice but to ask countries like Canada to help us, countries that have the compassion to understand the cries of the persecuted. We, Yazidis and victims of ISIS, look to you to give new hope to the hopeless."
Over the summer, the House of Commons immigration committee heard horrific accounts of torture, rape, murder and enslavement as witnesses offered emotional testimony about atrocities carried out by ISIS.
After a warning that testimony may be "upsetting" to members of the committee and viewing public, MPs heard shocking stories of mass killings, children raped by multiple men several times a day, and mothers being forced to feed on the flesh of their own children.
Rape, torture, slavery by ISIS
Taha, who was appointed United Nations Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking, told her story of being captured, enslaved, and enduring weeks of rape and torture. She is working with international human rights lawyer Amal Clooney to persuade the International Criminal Court to open an investigation regarding ISIS crimes.
She broke down in tears recounting the Sinjar massacre, in which 4,000 people were killed, 6,000 taken hostage and another 4,000 forced to flee to the mountains.
The Yazidis are a religious minority with an ancient 6,000-year-old culture, and are based mainly in northern Iraq.
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.
The 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.
Today, Conservative foreign affairs critic Peter Kent said many of the Yazidis are not considered refugees by the UN and are stuck in a "terrible limbo" as internally displaced persons facing discrimination and segregation in Muslim-run camps.