Yazidi refugee woman urges government for help navigating new world

A Yazidi refugee woman who was among the 1,200 Yazidis the Liberal government vowed to resettle in Canada says the women who have arrived here have been all but left on their own.

Petition calls on Liberals to provide more psychological and social supports to female Yazidi victims of ISIS

Yazidis fleeing violence from forces loyal to the ISIS walk towards the Syrian border on the outskirts of Sinjar mountain, near the Syrian border town of Elierbeh of Al-Hasakah Governorate, in 2014. Canada brought 1,200 Yazidis to Canada to resettle but some now say they are struggling to acclimatize to Canadian society. (Rodi Said/Reuters)

A Yazidi refugee woman who was among the 1,200 Yazidis the Liberal government vowed to resettle in Canada says the women who have arrived here have been all but left on their own.

She's urging the government to help them navigate their new world and to allow their family members to join them in Canada.

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, ISIS, has persecuted Yazidis, a minority religious sect mostly in northern Iraq.

Adiba, 27, fled her home in northern Iraq's Sinjar district after Islamic State militants massacred Yazidi villages, capturing women as sex slaves, and said some of her family members were among the estimated 10,000 Yazidis killed in the genocide.

Her parents and her brother are still living in a camp in Iraqi Kurdistan and she did not use her last name out of fear for their safety.

She says she was living in a refugee camp when she learned the Canadian government would sponsor Yazidi women to move to Canada. As one of the first of the group to arrive, she spent her first few nights scared and alone in a hotel in Toronto until a non-profit organization offered to help.

"We were dropped off at the Radisson Hotel, staying in the lobby, hungry, thirsty ... no language to even buy water," she said in an interview through an interpreter. "Guests thought we were homeless and they were giving us money."

Adiba travelled to Canada with her two sisters, one of whom has six children.

While she's grateful to be welcomed to Canada, she was on Parliament Hill Monday morning in support of a petition that calls on the government to provide psychological and social supports to female victims of ISIS here.

Divided families

Christine McDowell of the Women Refugees Advocacy Project started the petition and NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan tabled it in the House of Commons.

It's been just over a year since Adiba arrived in Canada and she is now volunteering with One Free World International, the organization that helped her resettle, and she is enrolled in English lessons.

To show what the Yazidi refugees have left behind, another participant played a video on a phone of Adiba's mother crying after visiting her ISIS-ravaged home. Adiba wiped tears from her eyes. She said she really wants her parents and brother to be able to come to Canada.

"They're older," she said.

Mathieu Genest, a spokesman for Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen, said people fleeing ISIS are eligible beneficiaries under the Interim Federal Health Program for refugees, so they receive basic coverage for mental-health services provided by physicians, including psychiatrists, and mental-health hospitals.

He said they also receive supplemental coverage for mental health services provided by psychotherapists, psychologists and counsellors, as well as prescription drug coverage for treatment of mental-health conditions.

Genest said so far Canada has accepted more than 1,400 survivors of ISIS, including more than 1,310 government-supported and 94 privately sponsored survivors. Of those who have arrived, over 85 per cent are Yazidi, and he said the government is trying to facilitate family reunification as soon as possible.