Group works to raise $34K, help Yazidi family flee to Winnipeg

Almost a year after 40,000 Yazidi people fled their homes in northern Iraq, a Winnipeg grassroots organization plans on making a difference to those who survived the ISIS attacks.

Almost a year after 40,000 Yazidi people fled their homes in northern Iraq, a Winnipeg grassroots organization plans on making a difference to those who survived the ISIS attacks.

The Hassan family waits on news of their immigration to Canada by community sponsor Winnipeg Friends of Israel. Shivan Hassan back row, second from left) poses with children, Khoke and Suzanne (18), Sivan (17), Faek (12) and Angelina (7). (Courtesy the Hassan family )
"It's our moral responsibility to help the Yazidis. For us it might mean $100, but for them it means their lives," said Yolanda Papini-Pollock, one of the founders of Winnipeg Friends of Israel (WFI), a multi-faith group that focuses on education and advocacy around the state of Israel.

Last August, ISIS attacks led to the slaughter of thousands of Yazidi people and many of their women and girls were sold into slavery.

Today, many of those who escaped are seeking refugee status in neighbouring Turkey, and WFI is well on its way to raising the $34,000 necessary to sponsor a family of seven.

- Yolanda Papini-Pollock

"We heard the story of the Yazidis, and it really reminded us of what Jewish people went through a generation ago," said Papini-Pollock, whose Jewish father and mother were hidden by non-Jews during the Holocaust.

"We're only risking money — we're not worried that our family will be killed. My parents were spared because people helped them."

Sponsoring a family is a complex process and one that WFI could not complete on its own. To sponsor a family to Canada, an organization must have a settlement plan and prove it has the money to sponsor a refugee for one year.

It must also obtain a sponsorship agreement holder, which in this case is the Morden Mennonite Church.

"It's a family of seven — that's seven lives that will be saved," said Nafiya Naso, a Yazidi woman living in Winnipeg.

Beaten by teachers

WFI started raising money for the sponsorship of the Hassan family after hearing Naso's own story.

"I was very young but I remember the teachers in school, and constantly being beaten by them. They told us we were infidels," said Naso of her time spent in a refugee camp in Syria.

Her family was persecuted in the 1990s and fled their home in northern Iraq. Naso's mother, eight months pregnant and faced with the weight of two other children, almost had to leave two-year-old Naso behind.

"Thankfully there happened to be a donkey and she put us on a donkey and walked six days — walking during the day and hiding at night."

Naso said what is happening to the Yazidis today is 10 times worse.

"Many people had to leave their children and elderly behind. [There were] women giving birth and digging graves for their infants with their bare hands," she said. "Anyone disabled was left behind. It's the worst thing a mother can do, to leave your disabled child behind or lose your other five or six kids."

The family being sponsored by WFI is Naso's brother-in-law's family. Shivan and Terko Hassan will arrive with their five children, ages seven to 18, once all of the money is raised.

"They're so excited to come to Canada," said Naso.

WFI is raising money through its website and is organizing a rally in August on the anniversary of last summer's ISIS attacks.

"It makes a difference to this one family and it makes a difference to us," said Papini-Pollock. "In our tradition we believe if you save one person you save the whole world. Each life has a very sacred value."


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