The Women Refugees Advocacy group formed to alert Canadians to the plight of Yazidi women and girl refugees to Canada who have survived extreme torture and genocide. With your help, we petitioned the federal government to keep their initial promise and provide them with comprehensive trauma care.
The government has yet to answer our call for specialized services, and continues to expect these women and girls to use existing services. Meanwhile, they speak a unique language and there are very few translators in Canada. And they have suffered such extreme torture that existing counselling services cannot meet their needs. Services here are inadequate, unplanned and failing.
As of July 2020 the Women Refugees Advocacy group has completed a documentary of their journey. “The Least We Can Do follows a small group of women in BC as they petition the Canadian government to provide promised comprehensive trauma care to the Yazidi women and girl refugees living in Canada. As the group urges the government to keep its promise, they encounter unexpected support along the way.”
Petition delivered to Parliament
On October 29, 2018, Women Refugees Advocacy Project members with Yazidi women from BC and Ontario delivered the Yazidi trauma care petition to Jenny Kwan, MP, at the Canadian Parliament in Ottawa.
Ms. Kwan held a press conference in the Canadian Parliamentary Press Gallery where many of us spoke. Later that same day, Jenny Kwan stood up in the House of Commons and gave a passionate speech on the importance of trauma care for the survivors of ISIS genocide and torture, and tabled the petition. There was clapping in the House and we waved from our seats in the Public Gallery while holding our hands over our hearts in response.
Thank you to all the people who signed and co-signed the petition!
Genocide against the Yazidi
In August 2014, ISIS extremists began a campaign of genocide against the Yazidi religious minority in Northern Iraq. ISIS/Daesh murdered Yazidi men and captured over 6,800 Yazidi women and young girls to systematically enslave, serial and gang rape and, in many cases, murder.
On October 25, 2016, the Canadian parliament voted unanimously to bring Yazidi survivors of ISIS enslavement to Canada as refugees. At that time, the government promised the Yazidi refugee program would include social and psychological supports, such as trauma counselling, for “the unimaginable trauma” the Yazidi women and girls had suffered.¹
What went wrong?
Fast forward to March 2018 and the public learns that this promise was not kept: ‘“Where is the Canadian government?”’ a Yazidi refugee, survivor of ISIS enslavement and rape, asks a New York Times reporter.²
The refugee, a member of a minority religious group targeted for genocide by ISIS, has been living in Toronto in a basement apartment with her young son since July 2017, reliving the torture she experienced during her captivity. ‘“They told us they would help us with psychologist,”’ she says. ‘“We haven’t see anything from them. Aren’t we human?”’³
Early in 2017 we formed the BC Working Group for Yazidi Women and Girls to lobby Ministers in Parliament in response to the survivors’ situation at that time. We later changed our name to Women Refugees Advocacy Project (WRAP). In 2018 we learned through articles in Chatelaine and The New York Times that the Yazidi women and children were not receiving the trauma care promised. Quite the contrary.
In these articles we read of Reverend Majed El Shafie and the efforts of One Free World International (OFWI) to assist the traumatized Yazidi women living in Canada. WRAP decided to formally petition the government to provide a comprehensive program of trauma care.
We contacted Anna-Lee Chiprout of OFWI to discuss our petition and to learn more about the current situation of the Yazidi refugees in Canada. Anna-Lee confirmed that the Yazidi women were not receiving the supports they were promised and encouraged us to keep going. She offered to consult Majed El Shafie, saying he could come to Vancouver to bring awareness to the plight of Yazidi women and girls in Canada and also those still in Iraq.⁴
After watching Freedom Fighter, a documentary featuring Majed El Shafie’s human rights work, we decided to embrace their offer. Please see our “Events in Vancouver” page.
For information on the Yazidi genocide
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1. Canada will take in 1,200 primarily Yazidi refugees, by Terry Pedwell, Macleans. ‘“As many have experienced unimaginable trauma, both physical and emotional, many will have unique psychological and social needs such as trauma counselling,”’ [Minister of Immigration and Refugees] Hussen said.
2. Canada Struggles as It Opens Its Arms to Victims of ISIS, by Catherine Porter, New York Times, March 16, 2018.
3. ‘Please Take Us Back To Iraq’: A Yazidi Family’s Traumatic First Days In Canada, by Naomi Buck, Chatelaine, December 8, 2017.
4. The Yazidis are in danger of extinction and Ottawa’s stopped helping, by Barbara Kay, National Post, June 19, 2018.
Header image credit: Aveen Ismail