Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen’s office says the federal government will temporarily extend the one-year period for Yazidi genocide survivors in Canada to reunite with their surviving family members who are still languishing in Iraq.
Mr. Hussen’s press secretary, Mathieu Genest, said the government is developing a temporary extension of the one-year window for survivors of the Islamic State, including Yazidi refugees, to sponsor family members to join them in Canada. Ottawa has come under mounting pressure from opposition parties and refugee advocates to prioritize family reunification for Yazidi refugees who have faced frustrating bureaucratic roadblocks trying to bring their family members to Canada.
“Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada is committed to processing applications under the one-year window of opportunity provision as quickly as possible and will prioritize cases in certain circumstances,” Mr. Genest said in a statement Wednesday.
“For survivors of Daesh [also known as the Islamic State], including Yazidis, every effort is made to facilitate expeditious reunification with family members who are freed from captivity.”
Mr. Genest said the temporary extension of the one-year window has been in the works for a while and is not a response to critics.
More than 1,400 survivors of the Islamic State – including Yazidis – from Iraq have resettled in Canada since the terrorist group unleashed a brutal campaign of murder, kidnap and rape in 2014 – atrocities the government has since declared a genocide.
Some of the Yazidi newcomers have since discovered their family members escaped the Islamic State in Iraq but have struggled to bring them to Canada. When they tried to sponsor their family members, the applications were denied because they didn’t meet the government’s requirements that only allow for spouses and dependents to join successful refugee claimants within one year of their arrival in Canada.
The Liberals’ plans to extend the one-year window will give Yazidis in Canada more time to sponsor their family members but does not help those hoping to sponsor anyone other than a spouse or dependent.
Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel held a news conference on Parliament Hill Wednesday during which she urged the government to change the requirements so Yazidis can sponsor siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents and other extended family members. She said the change would help reunite Yazidis whose entire nuclear family was killed by the Islamic State but who have surviving extended family members.
“We know this has been difficult for Yazidis in Canada because many women have lost their husbands and they wish to sponsor other relatives since they have lost their immediate family,” Ms. Rempel said.
“For the government to try and make somebody who has just come to Canada and who has gone through such trauma to have to fight with the government over paperwork, I think is just ridiculous.”
Nafiya Naso, a spokesperson for the Canadian Yazidi Association, joined Ms. Rempel on the Hill Wednesday. She said the inclusion of extended family members under the one-year window of opportunity is critical for Yazidis because of their male-dominated culture.
“Many of these survivors that have come in are single mothers with a lot of young children and there needs to be that male presence in the household for these families to succeed,” Ms. Naso said.
Doctors say family reunification is especially critical for a handful of Yazidi refugees who have a rare condition believed to be worsened by family separation. The newcomers suffer from pseudoseizures, a condition likened to an extreme form of post-traumatic stress disorder triggered by extreme psychological pressure. The episodes cause a person to lose consciousness and fall into what looks like an epileptic seizure.
Last weekend, The Globe and Mail reported on the plight of Jihan Khudher, a 29-year-old Yazidi woman in Calgary who suffers from pseudoseizures stemming back to the abuses she endured as a sex slave under the Islamic State. Her doctors believe the episodes are worsened by the stress of being separated from her sister, Hudda, who remains in an internally displaced persons camp in Iraq.
Hudda’s application to join her sister in Canada through the family-reunification program was denied because she is an adult, and therefore not a dependent of her sister. She now waits to be chosen by Canada from a list of tens of thousands of refugee applicants.