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Canadian Jews Help ‘Operation Ezra’ — Bring 7 Yazidi Families to Winnepeg

A small Yazidi community in Canada is teaming up with local Jewish organizations to help refugees running from ISIS find new homes.

With an initial goal of raising $34,000 to sponsor one refugee family, activists and community members in Winnipeg, Canada raised $250,000 to help 7 Yazidi families with a total of 42 people settle permanently in their city. Two families have already been greeted at the Winnipeg airport this July while 5 more will be joining them later in the year.

Nafiya Naso, an organizer with Operation Ezra, said that the collaboration started in 2015 when conversation around Syrian refugees was just beginning to seep into Canadian dialogue. With some of her family in Turkish refugee camps, Naso felt that the plight of the Yazidi people, who are a separate religious and ethnic group in Iraq and began to be killed and persecuted once ISIS took control of their region, often went unnoticed in most refugee discussions.

“Nobody knew who the Yazidis were and what had happened to them,” she said.

Image by Manuel F. Sousa (Jewish Federation of Winnipeg)

In a project named after the 1951 relocation of Iraqi Jews to Israel, community organizers partnered with The Jewish Federation of Winnipeg, Jewish Child and Family Service, and several local synagogues to help raise the funds necessary to sponsor the families and provide advice and counselling services once the refugees arrived.

“We have many people who have offered their time to help them with their English, take them shopping, take them to the doctor,” said Naso.

The families come from two different refugee camps in Turkey, where the Yazidis were placed separately from other refugees due to discrimination in the camps.

Naso’s cousin Saood, 21, was shocked to see so many different groups come to greet him with signs and cheers when his family landed at the Winnipeg airport on July 12.

“The most surprising part of arriving at the airport was all the people there,” he said. “We can’t believe how many people came and how many helped in giving us a new home here in Winnipeg.”

Michel Aziza, who works as chair of Operation Ezra, said that he immediately saw similarities between Jews who had been taken from their homes during World War II and the Yazidis.

“They’re a religious minority where they came from,” he said, noting that both groups have persecuted due to their religion. “They have been persecuted for hundreds of years.”

Naso and Aziza said that they will continue rallying to raise money for new families to join the 500 or so other Yazidi people who currently live in Canada for as long as the persecution continues.

“Unfortunately for the Yazidi people, time is of the essence,” said Aziza. “There’s a genocide going on as we speak and so we don’t have the luxury of time.”

The push is not connected to a Montreal Sephardic businessman whose claim to have singlehandedly rescue hundreds of Yazidis drew criticism last year.

Contact Veronika Bondarenko at [email protected] or on Twitter, @veronikabond.

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