Critics are 'set for disappointment' with government's Yazidi resettlement plan

The Liberal government is set to unveil its resettlement plan for Yazidi victims of ISIS, but as a one-week deadline looms, critics have little hope the government will deliver in a significant way.

With deadline looming in 1 week, Immigration Minister expected to announce details in coming days

The deadline to bring Yazidi survivors of ISIS genocide to Canada is only a week away, and critics say the government is not acting with enough urgency. (Rodi Said/Reuters)

The Liberal government is set to unveil its resettlement plan for Yazidi victims of ISIS, but as a one-week deadline looms, critics are keeping expectations low.

On Oct. 25, MPs unanimously adopted a Conservative motion to formally declare ISIS persecution of Yazidis a genocide and promised to bring refugees fleeing the violence to Canada within four months.

With the days counting down, critics have little hope the federal government will deliver on that pledge in a significant way.

They've had four months. They've brought none in to date.- Conservative MP Michelle Rempel

​Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel understands the logistical challenges with the operation, but said the government is not moving with the same urgency as it did with the Syrian refugees.

"They've had four months. They've brought none in to date," she said.

An official in the office of Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen said Sunday afternoon it is not accurate to say no Yazidis have been brought over, but would provide no details before the minister's update..

The Yazidis are a religious minority with a 6,000-year-old culture. They're based mainly in northern Iraq.

​Rempel expects the government will likely bring in a small number of UN-designated refugees who've been staying in camps, rather than the most vulnerable victims trapped in northern Iraq. A small number of privately sponsored Yazidis have already resettled in Canada.

Left in the dark

Many of the Yazidi women and girls have been victims of sexual violence, according to human rights groups like Human Rights Watch. Because of the trauma they've endured, they will require highly specialized medical treatment and other services.

But Rempel says she has been in touch with organizations based in the region, as well as community and support groups in Canada that are in the dark about when the women will arrive, how many to expect and where they will be located. 

"The fact that there hasn't been any noise in the broader community on this tells me that we're set for disappointment next week," Rempel said. "I hope I'm wrong, but I don't think it's going to be anything near the Syrian refugee initiative. The fact we haven't brought anybody in in four months is really disappointing."

Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel has been pressing the government for a target and timeframe to provide asylum to Yazidi women and girls. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Rempel hoped the government would present a detailed plan with targets and timelines when MPs returned in January after the Christmas break. But to date, no information has been made public.

She pressed Hussen again last week, asking him in the House of Commons why "zero" Yazidis have been brought to Canada so far. She said she worried there will be a "broken promise that will cost lives."

Without providing details, Hussen said the government remains "fully committed" to meeting the goal of the motion.

"We have an operation that is already underway. I will be providing details in the near future," he said.

NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan is alarmed by the apparent lack of action given the plight of the Yazidis was raised as an "urgent" issue during special parliamentary hearings last summer. 

'What are we waiting for?'

"So far, we have not seen one Yazidi brought over for resettlement, and I cannot tell you how disturbing that is," Kwan said. 

During committee hearings, officials from various departments conceded there were risks associated with the operation, but said they could be mitigated, Kwan said. The officials demonstrated they were ready, willing and able to mobilize and begin the process of bringing Yazidis to Canada, but were waiting for specific directives from the government.

Instead of acting with urgency, Kwan said the government is treating it like a "work in progress."

"To this day, we still don't know. What exactly has the government been doing, and what are we waiting for?" she asked.

Targeted to be 'wiped out'

"If the government wanted to do it, it could do it," Kwan said. "We are talking about a people facing genocide. This puts it at a different level when you have a group of people being targeted to be wiped out."

Germany was the first country to launch a special program to help vulnerable women and girls who have been victims of ISIS — most of them Yazidis but some of them Christians and other religious minorities. It brought in 1,100 people between March 2015 and January 2016. 

By most measures, the Special Quota Project has been a success, but the pilot program was initially met with much resistance and criticism from local governments, aid groups and the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR. 

About the Author

Kathleen Harris

Senior Writer

Kathleen Harris is a senior writer in the CBC's Parliament Hill bureau. She covers politics, immigration, justice and corrections. Follow her on Twitter @ottawareporter