Kurdish PM opposes Canada's 'organized migration' of Yazidis

Canada's plan to rescue Yazidi survivors of the ISIS genocide is meeting resistance from government officials in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region of Iraq. Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani says his government is opposed to any mass migration of the ethnic minority.

Germany faced similar opposition to its Yazidi rescue plan, official tells Commons committee

Iraqi Yazidi refugees fill bottles with water at the Newroz camp in Hasaka province, northeastern Syria, after fleeing advances by Islamic State jihadists in Iraq. (Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty)

The Kurdish regional government in northern Iraq opposes the Canadian plan to bring what could be thousands of Yazidi refugees to Canada in the next four months.

The office of Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani issued a strongly worded statement Thursday, the same day Canadian MPs convened on Parliament Hill to hear testimony from German officials who organized that country's efforts to rescue Yazidi survivors of the genocide taking place in north Iraq.

"Yazidis are indigenous minority and [the Kurdish regional government] is against any organized attempt to mass migrate members of its community," said the statement released to CBC News by a spokeswoman for Barzani.

"Prime Minister Barzani thinks the aid and support should be delivered to them in their country."

A senior official in Barzani's government went further, in an exclusive interview with CBC News, saying the administration is upset with the Canadian government, claiming there has been no consultation with the regional Kurdish authority or the Yazidi community in northern Iraq.​

The first time Yazidis heard about the Canadian plan was in the media, said Khairi Bozani, the Kurdish government's director general of Yazidi affairs, which is part of the ministry of endowment and religious affairs in the semi-autonomous region.

Khairi Bozani says the international community should improve living conditions for Yazidis, not encourage mass migration. (CBC News/Murray Brewster)

"How is that possible for the people of one country to decide for the people of another country that they're going to come and take 10,000–15,000 people out?" Bozani told CBC News. "They never consulted with the government."

He urged Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government to open a dialogue with officials in Erbil, the Kurdish capital, but suggested the snub has strained relations.

The German experience

Consultation was something German officials emphasized when they testified Thursday via video conference before the House of Commons immigration committee.

Michael Blume, head of the Special Quota Project, said Germany also faced resistance from Kurdish officials and non-governmental organizations in the region.

Given that there are only 360,000–400,000 Yazidis left in the world, the Barzani government said it was loath to see migration.

Yazidis and Canada

6 years ago
Duration 0:36
Yazidis in northern Iraq didn't know about Canada's plan to take them in as refugees

"So, it was in their interest that we clearly restricted the number to emergency cases," Blume said. "That was part of the agreement. We said: 'OK, we're concentrating on emergency cases and it's 1,000.' They agreed to that.They wouldn't have agreed if we had taken 100,000, I think." 

No one at Global Affairs Canada would speak on the record Thursday, but an official in Minister's Stéphane Dion's office denied there has been an absence of consultation and said Kurdish authorities have shown "interest and willingness to learn more about our program."


ISIS labelled the Yazidis devil worshippers for their unique religious beliefs and targeted them for extermination. Their plight captured world attention in 2014 and prompted Western intervention when extremist forces cornered them on the slopes of Mount Sinjar.

What followed were mass killings, rapes and sexual slavery for thousands in the minority ethnic community. The United Nations labelled it a genocide, something the Canadian government was slow to acknowledge.

McCallum urges support for Conservatives Yazidi motion

6 years ago
Duration 2:37
Immigration Minister John McCallum tells the House of Commons that he is urging Liberals to support the Conservative motion to bring more Yazidis to Canada.

Conservative MP Michelle Rempel spearheaded the motion through the House of Commons at the end of October to force the Liberals to accept survivors, many of them women and children who are living at internal refugee camps which dot the countryside outside Erbil.

The government voted in favour of the motion and Immigration Minister John McCallum dispatched a team to northern Iraq to work out the logistics but did not state how many refugees the government was willing to accept.

An official in McCallum's office says the team spoke with UN relief staff in Erbil; their mandate was strictly technical, not diplomatic, and they likely didn't have any high-level government-to-government contacts.

Tough conditions

Bozani, who is a Yazidi, acknowledges life in the camps is difficult and some may want to leave because, he says, underfunding of the humanitarian effort is creating conditions where people would want to migrate.

But presented with the opportunity to return to reconstructed homes, free of landmines and with security, Bozani said he believes the vast majority of the community would elect to stay.

"Those people want to go back to their regions," he said.

The UN has repeatedly warned, ever since the offensive to retake Mosul got underway last month, that only 57 per cent of its emergency appeal budget for the region has been met.

That, Bozani said, is making conditions worse as winter approaches.

A girl from the minority Yazidi sect, fleeing the violence in the Iraqi town of Sinjar, rests at the Iraqi-Syrian border crossing in Fishkhabour, Dohuk province. (Youssef Boudlal/Reuters)

On the humanitarian front, an official at Global Affairs says Canada is doing its part already.

Stephen Salewicz, the director of international humanitarian assistance operations at the department, says Canada contributed $63.5 million this year.

"It's a very significant amount of support to the UN and other humanitarian actors," said Salewicz, who noted last summer the government committed to $150 million in relief efforts for the region over the next three years. "Canada is playing a significant role."

He says the Canadian government has called on other nations to meet their pledges.


Murray Brewster

Senior reporter, defence and security

Murray Brewster is senior defence writer for CBC News, based in Ottawa. He has covered the Canadian military and foreign policy from Parliament Hill for over a decade. Among other assignments, he spent a total of 15 months on the ground covering the Afghan war for The Canadian Press. Prior to that, he covered defence issues and politics for CP in Nova Scotia for 11 years and was bureau chief for Standard Broadcast News in Ottawa.


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