Politics

MPs say something must be done for Yazidis, but can't agree on what or how soon

An emotional three days of hearings on the plight of Yazidis, victims of genocide, and other minority refugee groups has ended with no consensus on how the government could move forward to help.

Conservative, NDP MPs urge Immigration Minister John McCallum to help Yazidis and other vulnerable refugees

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. Canada's opposition MPs are urging the Trudeau government to take special measures to help Yazidis and other vulnerable refugees. (Youssef Boudlal/Reuters)

An emotional three days of testimony on the plight of minority refugee groups has ended with no consensus on how the federal government could move forward to help.

That's prompted opposition Conservatives and New Democrats to propose their own solutions while slamming the Liberals for their seeming unwillingness to assist one particular group desperate to escape genocide, the Yazidis. 

All the MPs on the Commons' immigration committee were visibly moved by testimony during hearings on vulnerable minorities that detailed the atrocities facing Yazidis in Iraq.

Nadia Murad Basee Taha, who was enslaved by ISIS, gives a moving testimony about the atrocities facing Yazidis during a Commons immigration committee hearing in Ottawa on Tuesday, July 19, 2016. (CBC)

The unusual summer hearings were called to find ways to help. 

But the immediate response to the testimony amounts to a letter to the federal immigration minister that contains no recommendations other than a call to expedite applications from the Yazidis, a Kurdish minority group which practices an ancient faith.

Randeep Sarai, one of the Liberal MPs on the committee, said the letter is the best that can be done right now. It will take time to come up with solutions based on the volume of evidence presented, he said. 

'Barbaric' acts against Yazidis

"It's like asking a judge to make a decision on the same day as a 10 day trial," Sarai said in an interview Thursday.

There's no question, Sarai said, that what's happening to the Yazidis is barbaric and demands the world's attention.

The United Nations said as much in a report last month that called, among other things, for countries to accelerate the asylum applications of Yazidi victims of genocide.

The UN report spurred the committee to hold the extraordinary summer meetings, so the absence of specific recommendations is disappointing, said Conservative MP Michelle Rempel.

"We can't wait until the House gets back in September for question period and 10 weeks of committee study," she said. "The government has to act over the summer."

In the meantime, Rempel and NDP MP Jenny Kwan have sent public letters of their own to the minister laying out their ideas. Among their proposals is that the minister invoke his powers under the immigration act to accept applications from people abroad on humanitarian and compassionate grounds, opening an avenue beyond traditional refugee streams.

The former Conservative government had sought to prioritize religious minorities, but an audit of those efforts revealed it didn't quite work. Only three Yazidi refugees arrived out of more than 500 files reviewed, The Canadian Press reported this week.

The audit findings spurred bitter partisan bickering at the committee. The Liberals asserted the Conservatives could have helped but did not, while the Tories argued the Liberals are resisting action because it was a Conservative initiative.

Kwan, the New Democrat, said the partisan rancour should be shelved in the face of a population at risk of being wiped off the earth. 

Focus on solutions

"What we've got to do is focus on solutions," she said. "You guys can do the blame game all you want and right now we
are talking about people's lives and people's lives are at risk."

 A spokeswoman for Immigration Minister John McCallum said that, given the committee just finished on Wednesday, it will take time to review what they heard.

Camielle Edwards noted Canada's existing policy provides protection to women and girls at risk, as well as well as members of religious minorities who are refugees.

"What we can say is that the minister recognizes the compelling nature of the claims of Yazidis as ISIL is attacking them," Edwards said.

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