Is Canada Doing Enough to Help Yazidi Refugees?

In February 2017, the Trudeau Government promised to resettle 1,200 Yazidi refugees fleeing genocide by ISIS in Iraq and Syria. In comparison to the Canadian Government’s actions for Syrian refugees over the past year, do you think Canada is doing enough to help the Yazidi people?


Phil Rafalko – Program Editor, International Business and Economics

The relative lack of attention to Yazidi refugees compared to those from Syria gives us room to be skeptical. Syria’s central position in our purview has as much to do with geopolitical interests as humanitarian concerns. There are competing strategies between Canada and the US, Russia, Turkey, and Iran at play because they all want to see different outcomes from the Syrian war. Western allies generally frame Syrian refugees as victims of war in general, for which the Assad regime is (at least partly) responsible.


There are equally grave humanitarian situations in Iraq and Yemen, where some of the world’s most vulnerable minority groups are facing persecution. The Yazidis in Iraq are considered heretics by ISIS. However, the Yazidis are framed as victims of extremist persecution and not victims of the Iraqi state. Canada will find ways to frame limiting refugee intake as an Iraqi responsibility.


Furthermore, the Yazidi refugee initiative was taken up by a Conservative Party motion. Stéphane Dion labeled the slaughter of Yazidis genocide when he was still Minister of Foreign Affairs. Despite a unanimous vote on the initial motion, the relative quietness on this issue has as much to do with the Trudeau government’s new cabinet trying to control the political process as it does with international interests.


Mark Jarratt – Program Editor, Canada’s NATO

I believe Canada is doing enough by resettling 1,200 Yazidis. Canada has taken in roughly 40,000 refugees from Iraq and Syria in the last year or so, and our generosity has led to a backlog in the immigration system. Canada is also dealing with the pressing issue of refugees fleeing the United States and crossing the border into Canada. Border asylum claims entering Canada from the U.S. have increased 212% and are expected to continue increasing as the weather gets warmer.


Canada needs to put its resources towards the Southern border, to address asylum seekers fleeing the United States. If Canada were not currently dealing with the issue on our border with the United States, the Canadian government could probably take in more Yazidis. However, having currently taken in around 40,000 refugees as a result of the Syrian civil war, with the refugees coming in from our neighbour to the south, and the number of immigrants who come into Canada in general, the Canadian government has been using a lot of resources, and therefore taking in 1,200 Yazidis is an appropriate figure at this time.


Farah Bogani – Program Editor, NATO’s Arc of Crisis

The decision is a victory for one of the most vulnerable minority groups facing persecution. However, the genocide has yet to inspire serious international action. As signatory to the Genocide Convention and champion of the R2P doctrine, Canada must lead by example by taking substantially more than 1,200 when the estimated population is 650,000 in Iraq alone. This is especially in light of PM Trudeau’s welcome tweet to those targeted by the US travel ban: ‘To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada’. 


Canada could also urge the international community to increase resettlement efforts, while contributing more on the ground. Since many Yazidis appear ‘trapped’ in hard-to-reach combat areas, Canada could contribute more to rooting out terrorism in areas where Yazidi people could be held captive, and join Germany to create safe zones where resettlement is impossible. 


However, there is only so much Canada can do and the ‘never again’ mantra rings hollow amidst Nadia Murad’s fears: ‘I am deeply disappointed that my words, my tears, my testimony seem to have failed to make you move against ISIS. I wonder, should I continue this campaign of mine? Will it be of any use?


Alex Sawicki – Program Editor, Procurement

Is Canada doing enough to help the Yazidi people? The answer hinges on whether you believe that treating the symptoms is more effective than going after the disease, and whether Canada is in any position to rid the world of its ills when there are so many at home.


Make no mistake, the Yazidi people are suffering tremendously at the hands of ISIS, and every attempt should be made to help them, but what of ISIS itself? Would they not simply refocus their ideologically based ethnic cleansing campaign on another minority group in the region? Is it feasible to step in and evacuate everyone that has been victimized by ISIS? These are the questions that one must consider when evaluating the efficacy of Canada’s efforts to save the world from ISIS.


And what of Canada’s own issues? There is a conspicuous lack of public outcry over the estimated 30,000 Canadian citizens who, on any given night, find themselves without a place to call home. The list goes on: historical mistreatment of Canada’s Aboriginal peoples, their stark overrepresentation in prison and homeless populations, rising inequality, the gender wage-gap, as well as youth unemployment and underemployment rates. While it is true that $28 million would not suffice to solve any one of these issues, it nonetheless serves as a clear message to those Canadian citizens who are suffering right here at home.


Bianca Hossain – Program Editor, Society, Culture and IR

I don’t think helping 1200 Yazidi refugees will ever be enough to mitigate what the Yazidi population has been going through, even if the number taken in were to surpasses the number of Syrian refugees accepted by Canada last year. Yazidi women and girls are often used as sex slaves while the men are killed off. That’s something we need to start discussing in order to provide the proper tools that tailor to the needs of the Yazidi people. A safe haven can’t just be a place to stay, but must also come equipped to ensure the success of these refugees. I think by providing education, mental health services and other resources that specifically cater to what these refugees have gone through, this will allow the Yazidis who grow up in Canada to be able to put their community’s humanity back together in their homeland. I am glad and fortunate to have a government that wants to protect these people, but also think that we must provide the proper support to help them come to terms with what they have gone through.


Fadi Dawood – Senior Research Fellow

During the summer of 2014 at the moment in which ISIS entered Yazidi villages, and began a systemic genocidal campaign against this vulnerable community, Vian Dakhil, the Iraqi MP representing the Yazidi community gave a haunting speech that to this day is used to demonstrate the amount of suffering and pain experienced by the community during that fateful summer. Yet Canada and much of the international community stood silent, and the discourse around ISIS and the atrocities committed by the terrorist organization did not focus on the plight of the Yazidies until six or so months later as Yazidi women began to describe unimaginable horror stories during and time they spent as sex slaves in ISIS controlled Mosul.


During the summer of 2014, I had to communicate with then both Liberal and NDP Foreign Affairs Critics Marc Garneau and Paul Dewar’s. Mr. Garneau’s staff were slow to respond yet they were open to speaking about the rise of ISIS and finally issued a statement condemning the atrocities weeks after the rise of ISIS. The sluggish and slow response to the Yazidi case is reflected in the current government’s response to the Yazidi problem.


Canada and the internal community is not doing enough to help the Yazidi community. Canada, should lead a mission that would help reconstruct and rebuild Yazidi villages in Iraq for Yazidis interested in remaining at home in Iraq. We should work with allies to ensure that the Yazidi population is protected in Iraq, and they are in fact living without fear of yet another genocide, attack, or reprisal. Canada should work with Iraqi officials to ensure that a system of truth and reconciliation takes place in the country, and certainly, focus on the Yazidi minority. This would help in solving some of the immediate and mid range problems facing the community in Iraq today. Finally, we should work with NATO allies to ensure that all Yazidis interested in leaving Iraq find a safe home in Canada or Germany where substantial diaspora communities resides today. We shouldn’t limit the number of Yazidi refugees arriving to Canada, it is the duty of the international community to ensure the survival of the community and people that have experience unimaginable pain and suffering. To answer the original question, no Canada is not doing enough to help ensure the Yazidis are protected.


Project Manager: Erin Loney – Program Editor, Expanding Community

The Yazidis are an ancient religious community and one of Iraq’s oldest minorities. Over the course of history, the Yazidis have faced many years of oppression and have been threatened with extermination several times. Under Ottoman rule alone, the Yazidis faced 72 genocidal massacres.


Derived from aspects of Zoroastrianism, Christianity, and Islam, the Yazidis were denounced as infidels by ISIS predecessor, Al-Qaida, and are now being hunted and slaughtered by ISIS militants, particularly in Iraq. Yazidis are considered the most vulnerable group in the region, being the number one target for ISIS, which has killed thousands of men and boys, and abducted more than 5,000 women and girls.


Canada accepts refugees based on their level of vulnerability, not based on ethnicity or religion. In this light, the Yazidis are certainly worthy of resettlement in this country, and they go through the same comprehensive vetting process as every other refugee and immigrant. The effort to resettle 1,200 Yazidi refugees demonstrates Canada’s dedication to its humanitarian commitments, especially as its neighbour to the South attempts to ignore its obligations.


In comparison to the number of Syrian refugees that Canada took in last year, 1,200 is quite a small number. However, the government is also pledging to address the ongoing long-term issues that the Yazidi refugees will face. Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen noted that the initiative will focus on a “small number of people for whom resettlement is the best option”, and the government intends to facilitate psychological and social assistance such as trauma counseling. The government is motivated to not only relocate 1,200 of the most vulnerable population in the world, but also to assist in their long-term mental recovery.


As for whether the Canadian government is doing enough; can anyone ever really do enough? The Yazidis have faced unimaginable persecution and have been forced from their ancestral land. I believe that the Canadian government should take in as many refugees as they can realistically and fully resettle, while providing necessary rehabilitation and counseling. 1,200 is a good starting point to ensure that each one of the Yazidis that have suffered “high levels of violence” receives the care and rehabilitation that they will need to integrate with Canadian society, the ultimate problem is that the starting point is now, when it should have been months, even years ago.


I disagree that the government should forsake refugees to focus instead on domestic issues. An example of one of the more common arguments I’ve heard is that the government should stop resettling refugees and should instead put those funds towards veterans’ affairs. Yes, our veterans deserve government funding and care, but in 2016, the Canadian government pledged $5.6 billion over the course of 6 years towards veterans programs, whereas the Yazidi resettlement will cost the government $28 million. We can and should do both. And to focus efforts entirely on defeating ISIS in order to save these vulnerable populations, rather than assisting and resettling them is also not feasible. At the rate that Yazidis are dying and being captured, there will be next to none left by the time ISIS is overpowered.

Photo:Defend International and its supporters provided humanitarian aid to Yazidi refugees in Kurdistan region, Iraq (2014), by Defend International via Wikimedia Commons. Licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Disclaimer: Any views or opinions expressed in articles are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the NATO Association of Canada.

About Erin Loney

Erin is a contributor and former Program Editor for Expanding Community at NATO Association of Canada. She recently graduated with an Honours BSocSc in International Development and Globalization, with a minor in Political Science from the University of Ottawa. Key areas of study included international trade and development, Canadian foreign policy, economics of globalization, and research methods. Along with these topics, Erin’s personal areas of interest include environmental policy, public diplomacy, and human rights. In addition to her work at NAOC, Erin writes, edits, and contributes to social media management for an Ottawa tech start-up. She plans to pursue further studies and a career in International Affairs and Development. Erin has traveled extensively and is passionate about studying other cultures and areas of the world. She hopes to live abroad and work with an international or multilateral organization in the future. Erin can be reached at