A few months ago, armed soldiers came to my street in Vancouver. They shot all the men and boys and they took all the women and girls and forced them into sexual slavery. I was away at the time.
Recently the women were rescued and came back. To be honest, they’re not in great shape. And there are some still in captivity.
I can tell from looking at Susan and her daughter Eliza, who’s 11, that this was really hard and that they are still suffering. So I wondered is there something I could to?
Of course this didn’t happen here. But it did happen. And it horrified us. It happened in northern Iraq, in 2014, to the Yazidi. You may not have heard because there were so many other war stories happening at the same time.
Yazidis are members of a tiny religious minority from northern Iraq. They number between 400,000 and 500,000. Their religion dates back to ancient Mesopotamia and preserves pre-Islamic practices. In August 2014, ISIS extremists used that as an excuse for a campaign of genocide against them.
ISIS/Daesh murdered Yazidi men and boys, often in front of their wives and daughters, and then systematically enslaved 6,800 Yazidi women. These women have suffered extreme and unimaginable sexual war crimes. They have been gang raped, they have been raped on a daily basis, and they have been sold on and on and on from one man to another.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government brought somewhere between 800 to 1,200 Yazidi, women, girls and some boys to Canada in 2017. Most of them settled in Alberta and Ontario.
“We’re taking steps to make sure Yazidi & other survivors of Daesh have the support they need when they get here,” Trudeau wrote in a tweet announcing the initiative. A government news release noted the Yazidi would need extensive help “from interpreters to psychological, physical and social supports.” A House of Commons committee urged the government to ensure the Yazidi had access to housing.
But, unfortunately, once they got here, there was no housing to speak of and certainly no trauma care.
We’ve heard from Canadian war veterans and residential school survivors how hard it is to live with severe, complex PTSD. And experts working with Yazidi former slaves say they have never seen such severe psychological trauma.
The Yazidi women and girls are struggling, and we can help. Because back in the 1970s, Canadians began to create organizations that dealt with rape and violence against women. There’s a whole network of people who know how to help.
Germany is leading the way with a model of healing that includes community housing and daily trauma care.
We could do this. And we need to do this because there are going to be other waves of war-ravaged people seeking our help.
So some of my neighbours and I have formed a group called Women Refugees Advocacy Project (WRAP) to try to help our new neighbours. Some of us have been doing this work since the ’70s (yes, we’re old).
Here’s the plan. We have a petition, which you could sign, simply asking that Primer Minister Justin Trudeau fulfill his promise.
And we’ve banded together with Majed El Shafie of Toronto. He has a non-profit called One Free World International and helps people being persecuted because of their religious beliefs.
He is being particularly helpful to the Yazidi. He even rescues them from slave markets, bartering for them.
He’ll be in Vancouver Sept. 27 to 29, speaking at some events we’ve organized. You can find out about them on our website.
What can you do to help? You can pressure our government to fulfill their promise by signing our petition and maybe passing it on. You can also come to the events to learn more.
Thank you for reading this. We hope to see you in the neighbourhood.