OTTAWA – Yazidi refugees brought to Canada after surviving rape and torture in Iraq are facing barriers accessing mental health and other settlement services in their own language, a House of Commons committee has found.
The immigration committee delivered its report last week after studying resettlement issues faced by Yazidi women and children.
Those who have come through the government-assisted refugee program are running into roadblocks trying to access affordable housing, mental health and other services in their mother tongue after arriving in Canada, the committee found.
In some cases, only Arabic-speaking interpreters are available, which one witness said was upsetting for a young Yazidi girl in Calgary because her captors in Iraq spoke Arabic.
The committee says government should offer better, more integrated settlement services for vulnerable refugee groups and better anticipate their linguistic needs.
But Conservative MP Michelle Rempel, whose lobbying efforts helped push the government to commit to resettling 1,200 Yazidi women and children last year, called the committee’s final recommendations “broad and milquetoast.” After dealing directly with many of these survivors of genocide, rape and torture, Rempel said she wanted to see a stronger call for services for these refugees.
“We don’t have an integrated response,” she told The Canadian Press.
“It’s one thing to say, ‘Hashtag welcome to Canada’ and it’s another to do the heavy lifting and hard work and hard discussion to ‘Hashtag integrate into Canada.'”
Another recommendation from the committee report is also drawing some criticism.
It calls on Canada to increase its refugee resettlement targets in the wake of the global refugee crisis, but stopped short of specifying any groups.
A number of witnesses called for more Yazidi refugees to be brought to Canada. But others, including the United Nations refugee agency, raised concerns about the politicization of Canadian resettlement programs that target specific groups.
Michel Aziza works with Operation Ezra, a coalition of faith groups that has privately sponsored 10 Yazidi refugee families over the last year. Each of these families have other family members they would like to bring to Canada, he said.
“I agree that you can’t prioritize (refugees) but the fact of the matter is the Yazidis are the victim of a genocide,” Aziza said.
“I know it’s a difficult decision to make, but I feel there is an opportunity bring in more Yazidis, help the ones that are here by reuniting families. And when you reunite families you make the resettlement of the families that you bring in even easier because they have a support infrastructure already in place here in Canada.”
Rob Oliphant, Liberal MP and chair of the immigration committee, said his goal in preparing the report was to ensure there were no dissenting reports from Opposition members. The recommendation on increasing refugee targets without specifying Yazidis was a compromise.
The committee recognizes a crisis still exists in Iraq for the Yazidi people, but targeting the government-assisted refugee program toward Yazidis does not need to continue at the same level “because we don’t know what the other crises will be,” Oliphant said.
“We’re not prepared to tie the government down on that. We think Canada should continue the process of the most vulnerable, the most at risk and that almost changes on a daily, weekly or monthly basis.”
The committee instead recommended quotas on private sponsorships of refugees be lifted until 2020 to allow groups like Operation Ezra to bring more Yadizi refugees to Canada.
Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen’s office would not say whether the committee’s recommendations would be adopted in part or in whole, but did point to a commitment in the recent federal budget of $20 million to expand refugee programs to target women and girls.
“Our special program to resettle women and their families who have endured the brutality of Daesh is truly unique, with very few similar initiatives around the world,” Hussen spokesman Hursh Jaswal said in a written statement.
“We will continue to expedite privately-sponsored applications as well as ensure that family members who escape Daesh captivity are able to join their relatives in Canada.”