As It Happens

Yazidi women who escaped ISIS now facing threats, harassment in Canada

Women and girls who survived rape and abuse at the hands of ISIS in Iraq are now reportedly being targetted with threats and harassment in Canada.

Calls and texts are 'opening an old wound' for the refugees already dealing with intense trauma, says reverend

Adiba is one of the Yazidi women in Toronto who has been on the receiving end of harassing and threatening texts and phone calls. (Submitted by Majed el-Shafie)
Listen6:45

Read Story Transcript

Women and girls who survived rape and abuse at the hands of ISIS in Iraq are now reportedly being targeted with threats and harassment in Canada. 

Five Yazidi women and one 14-year-old girl north of Toronto have filed reports with the York Regional Police after receiving threatening phone calls and texts, reports W5, CTV's investigative program.

Yazidis are a religious minority who were targeted by ISIS fighters in Iraq in a brutal campaign described by the United Nations as genocide. More than 3,000 Yazidis were killed in northern Iraq in 2014, and nearly 7,000 women and girls were abducted and sexually abused.

The calls and messages include threats, graphic references to rape, disparaging remarks about Yazidi people, and photos of beheadings and armed extremists, according to W5. 

CBC has not seen the messages or heard recordings of the calls, but York Regional Police confirmed it is investigating telephone threats against six newcomers to Canada.

"They are all very brave coming forward to police and I can assure you that we take these allegations very seriously and they will be thoroughly investigated," Const. Andy Pattenden said in an emailed statement to CBC News.

Rev. Majed el-Shafie, founder of One Free World International, an organization that supports Yazidi refugees in Canada, spoke to As It Happens host Carol Off. Here is part of their conversation. 

As disturbing as this is, can you give us a sense of what kinds of threats these women received?

They received pictures of ISIS fighters beheading some innocent person. They received pictures of ISIS fighters holding machine guns. They received very horrible messages and voice messages, threatening them, insulting them. 

In one of the messages, the criminal was saying, you know: We will rape you as we did in Syria. We will rape you again in Canada. 

And these people who were calling, they were speaking and writing Arabic?

They were speaking in Arabic and writing in Arabic. I heard some of the messages. ... I spoke to one of these criminals. 

One Free World International founder Rev. Majed El Shafie has been working with the targetted Yazidi women. (Turgut Yeter/CBC)

I'm just curious what you're referring to when you say that you spoke with one of them. What happened?

He called one of the survivors and they immediately, the survivors, put me on the speaker and contact me by [another] phone.

He could hear me through the speaker and I immediately confronted him. I immediately asked him if he were ISIS or not. I told him: "It doesn't matter what you do, you will never win this battle."

Immediately when he heard my voice, he ran away and he just closed the phone.

And have you told the police that you actually had a conversation with one of these men?

We informed the authorities. We've been in very close range with authorities.

They are a doing great job. They're trying their best to answer two questions, really: Who is making these calls and from where? And who leaked [the women's contact] information?

Have the calls ceased since you since you intervened?

No. Some of the survivors, we had to change their phone numbers because they couldn't take it.

And as of this coming Sunday, we are just starting an emergency psychology sessions for the survivors that received the calls in order just to ensure their recovery, mental health-wise.

Remind people what these women went through before they came to Canada.

It is the most horrible genocide that you can ever imagine in our modern history.

From losing the family members — fathers, sons, daughters being killed in front of them — all the way to being captured by ISIS, used as sex slaves ... raped, gang-raped, sold in some cases 15, 20 times in a very short period of time, tortured, and basically even some of their family members [are] still in the hands of ISIS.

So they come here to Canada hoping for a new life, for healing from the trauma, and now these calls, obviously, is like opening an old wound and putting salt and lemon on it.

Displaced people from the minority Yazidis sect leave the Iraqi town of Sinjar and walk toward the Syrian border in 2014, fleeing ISIS violence. (Rodi Said/Reuters)

Do they have enough support? I know many of them lost family members, or they were taken from them. Do these women have a circle of support here?

I don't think that the Canadian government is able of capable of understanding the trauma that they went through.

It's not only about the Canadian government — it's the Canadian people. I witnessed a Canadian bus driver that took them without taking money from their ticket, I witnessed a cab drivers take them for free, a grocery store will deliver them food for free. We have psychologists that are volunteering their time. We have one of the best lawyers ... helping them.

Canada is a solid country. It's a wonderful country. Their support's mainly coming from the Canadian people, but I wouldn't say from the Canadian government.

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from Shanifa Nasser. Interview produced by Jeanne Armstrong. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.