Fewer than 5 Yazidi survivors have accessed individualized trauma counselling in Canada

Fewer than five Yazidi survivors of rape, torture and sexual slavery at the hands of ISIS have accessed individualized trauma counselling through federal assistance, according to immigration officials.

Victims of rape, torture and sexual slavery face language, resettlement barriers

Basema and her son Hazal arrived in Canada five months ago as part of a federal program to resettle 1,200 Yazidis and other survivors of ISIS by the end of 2017. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

Fewer than five Yazidi survivors of rape, torture and sexual slavery at the hands of ISIS have accessed one-on-one trauma counselling through federal assistance, according to immigration officials.

MPs on the immigration committee are receiving briefings this week on Canada's special program to bring 1,200 Yazidis and other survivors of ISIS by the end of the year. Officials confirmed the government is on track to meet its target, and that 81 per cent of the 807 people resettled so far are Yazidi.

But under questioning from MPs today, officials outlined challenges with the complex resettlement process, ranging from translation and interpretation services, to medical treatment to specialized trauma and mental health care.

While health services are normally covered by the provinces and territories, the federal government provides funding for refugees through an interim federal health care program.

Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel let out an audible gasp when an immigration department official revealed that fewer than five resettled Yazidis have accessed individualized counselling.

"What the Canadian Mental Health Association has told us is in situations like this, you have the initial euphoria when people arrive in Canada, and then their mental health needs resurface six to 24 months in," said Dawn Edlund, a senior operations official with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.

Responding to the figure, Rempel said more must be done to help those who have survived atrocities that "many of us can not even fathom."

"I've met with girls who are now in Canada who have been sold and raped multiple times, after watching their families be murdered in front of them," she told CBC News Tuesday.

Conservative Immigration critic Michelle Rempel surprised when she seeks information around a government plan to provide specialized mental health services for Yazidis resettled in Canada. 1:12

"Having no plan to provide them with the support they need to help them through this trauma is another injustice that humanity has placed upon their lives, except this time it's being perpetrated by hands of the Canadian government. This needs to change, now. Their lives are still at risk."

Rempel said language is one barrier to accessing treatment, and that the government should have an overall strategy for helping the women and children access necessary treatment instead of having to navigate a system.

Edlund said 50 people have also accessed medication through the federal health program.

Protection top priority

UNHCR representative in Canada Jean-Nicolas Beuze told the committee that whenever possible, Yazidi survivors and their children should be protected and supported to remain in their homeland in northern Iraq.

The UN does not normally identify individuals for resettlement based on ethnicity or country of origin, but on degrees of vulnerability, yet made an exception in this case, he said.

Those identified for resettlement were based on medical or psychological needs, but also women with children born out of rape who face stigma.

"Children born out of wedlock of women who had been held captive by Daesh (ISIS) are particularly at risk of reprisal from their own family, unfortunately, and from their own communities," he said. "Because of the so-called shame that has been brought to the family of having a female member of the family who had been raped; those would be a case where we would consider resettlement."

Jean-Nicolas Beauze of the UNHCR tells a parliamentary committee that women who have had children after being raped by ISIS are at risk of reprisals by their own community due to the shame that has been brought upon them. 0:58

The Yazidis are a religious minority based mainly in northern Iraq, with a culture dating back 6,000 years. ISIS has targeted them in brutal attacks since August 2014.

Last June, a United Nations report declared that the slaughter, sexual slavery, indoctrination and other crimes committed against the 400,000 Yazidi amounted to genocide. Its finding that the militants had been systematically rounding up Yazidis to "erase their identity" meets the definition under the 1948 UN Convention on Genocide.

1,383 referrals

On Oct. 25, 2016, MPs unanimously supported an opposition motion sponsored by Rempel to bring an unspecified number of Yazidi women and girls to Canada within 120 days.

In February, Hussen announced the target would be 1,200 by the end of 2017.

Edlund said to date, 1,383 Yazidi and other survivors of ISIS have been referred to the special program which means Canada will continue to resettle more individuals and families beyond the 1,200 target into 2018.

Most of those who arrived in Canada to date have been resettled in Toronto, Calgary, Winnipeg and London, Ont. but smaller numbers have gone to 14 other communities across the country.