Mr. Chair, ladies and gentlemen, good morning.
My name is Omar Khoudeida, and I am both an activist in the Yazidi community in London, Ontario, and an employee of the London Cross Cultural Learner Centre. Thank you for inviting me to attend this committee and to give an update on the Yazidis who resettled in London this year.
As we all know, on August 3, 2014, ISIS committed the worst crime against the Yazidi population in Iraq. However, this crime, like many others before it, is not isolated. In 2017, the Canadian government committed itself to resettle 1,200 Yazidis this year. Since February 2017, London has received 68 families—170 individuals.
Since their arrival and up until now, the Yazidi community has been working with the London Cross Cultural Learner Centre to provide all the services and immediate needs for the new arrivals, including but not limited to short-term accommodation; permanent accommodation; facilitation of needed documents, such as PR cards and OHIP cards; applying for child benefits; interim federal health and life skills supports; access to information, orientation, and education sessions; access to on-site medical care in partnership with our local community health centre; intensive, time-sensitive, and specialized case management; needs assessment, referrals, case coordination, home visits, and referrals to many agencies; settlement counselling and access to short-term on-site counselling; on-site child minding; language assessment and referrals to LINC and ESL programs; participation in social, therapeutic, language, and skills-based groups; and matching families with volunteers in the community.
We have identified some single mothers with children who face additional settlement challenges and who are in need of longer-term support. Furthermore, the London community has experienced an influx of government-assisted refugees who have transferred from Toronto and other cities due to affordability and a connection to local community.
We have been supporting 12 transferred families with 46 members. We have also worked with the Merrymount Family Support and Crisis Centre to collaborate on an art therapy group for Yazidi children. Allowing children space to be children and allowing creative experience and focus on recovery and resilience has proven efficacious for children affected by armed conflict.
There are many survivors of the Yazidi genocide and sexual enslavement who remain in the refugee camps in the Kurdistan region in northern Iraq, with further displaced...who are willing and waiting to be resettled. Many are unwilling or unable to return home due to the instability in the region, with no local durable solutions.
We implore you to extend the commitment of this committee, to encourage and engage private sponsors, and to give them access to refugee camps in northern Iraq. Continue to provide federal funding to support the services that are being offered to this community and to others who are both marginalized and displaced.
Throughout history, the Yazidi people have been marginalized and treated like second-class if not third-class citizens. I am very confident that today you all will agree that upon arriving in Canada they are made to feel welcome and confident in their identity and that they will not be marginalized again.
Your continued support and services addressing settlement success, mental health, and well-being will foster recovery, resilience, and empowerment for a successful transition to Canadian life and its values.
London and the Cross Cultural Learner Centre have a long-standing history of resettlement for many refugee communities and have the capacity and the resources to take in and support more Yazidi refugees.
I thank you very much, and God bless you.