Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to participate in this important debate.
I first want to acknowledge the advocacy on this issue by the member for Calgary Nose Hill. She has put a very important motion on the persecution of minority groups in Iraq and Syria before the House. I think I can safely say that everyone in the House, across party lines, is outraged by the despicable attacks on minority groups by Daesh.
As a member of this chamber who has had the opportunity to prosecute genocide at the Rwanda war crimes tribunal with the UN, I can say that I am personally horrified by genocide whenever it emerges. It is indeed an issue that members take seriously, none more so than I do, as someone who has participated in taking action on the very types of genocide we are discussing today.
Genocide is clearly the most internationally reprehensible crime known to law and is something to which the international community should respond. Canadians in general have expressed their horror at the murderous actions of Daesh against groups such as the Yazidis, Christians, Shia Muslims, women, and members of the LGBTQ community.
Since 2014, we know that the actions of Daesh have resulted in thousands of civilian deaths, and many more innocent people have faced persecution. These terrible acts have appalled governments and people around the world, not only for their cruelty but also for how they have contributed greatly to the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War.
In addition to the refugees in other countries, more than three million people are internally displaced in Iraq. The Government of Canada recognizes the need to protect Yazidis throughout this region. We have a long and proud tradition of providing protection to those who need it the most. We are a key contributor to international efforts to address protection issues in the region and, indeed, a hallmark of our government is that we believe in engagement with the international community, not isolation from it. That is what Canadians expect of their government. That is exactly what this government has been doing in the first year of its mandate.
Canada has always provided refuge to the world's most vulnerable people. We have welcomed generations of newcomers, who have helped us rebuild our society and economy. We have learned through years of experience that when Canadians come together to welcome and integrate newcomers, it strengthens our communities and contributes to our country's prosperity.
We see this unfolding now as we continue to welcome the some 32,000 Syrian refugees who have arrived since November 4, 2015, in addition to the thousands of other refugees from other populations. In respect of Iraq, the Government of Canada has fulfilled its commitment to resettle 23,000 Iraqi refugees alone. This was accomplished through both the government-assisted and privately sponsored refugee programs.
Following the comments made by the Minister of Immigration in the House a short while ago, I can confirm to the House that departmental officials from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada have very recently completed a visit to northern Iraq. In addition to having interviewed a very large number of Syrian refugees, these officials also met with key partners to gather as much information as possible on the situation on the ground.
Given the security situation in Iraq, we need to consider these next steps very carefully. The region's continuing instability presents very significant challenges to accessing persons who are being persecuted by Daesh in order to identify, select, and interview them, not to mention getting them out of Iraq, while ensuring that our immigration officers, members of the Yazidi community themselves, and other vulnerable groups remain out of harm's way. Moreover, recent military activities in northern Iraq present even greater challenges to the safety of Canadian personnel, as well as aid agencies and partner organizations working in the area.
As well, with the massive displacement expected as a result of the activities that are ongoing right now near Mosul, close to a million internally displaced persons are expected to be on the move and seeking shelter from violence. Some of the very partners we need to work with in the region will be consumed with this mass movement of people, making discussions and coordination with local governments and agencies even more difficult.
Let me underscore that the refugee resettlement we undertake is not Canada's action alone. We do it in concert with partners, such as the UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration. Without their co-operation and their ability to act on our behalf, operations such as the current refugee resettlement or future operations relating to the Yazidi people simply cannot occur.
The feasibility of any program assisting these vulnerable groups in northern Iraq is going to be assessed in light of the challenges that I've just been describing.
We are also aware of the fact that there is a vulnerable Iraqi population in Turkey, which includes the Yazidi people. We would like to explore working with the Turkish government and the UNHCR to look at the best possible resettlement options for that group.
When choosing which refugees to welcome, we rely on our partners, as I mentioned, such as the UN Refugee Agency, the UNHCR, to help us find vulnerable individuals. The UNHCR independently identifies and refers the most vulnerable refugees for resettlement, including people with severe medical needs, survivors of torture or violence, children and adolescents at risk, and women and girls at risk.
In all of its humanitarian programs, including resettlement, UNHCR prioritizes those who are most vulnerable without making distinctions on the basis of nationality, race, gender, religious belief, class, or political opinion. That is an important mandate and it is one that we believe should continue in order to facilitate the responsible resettlement of refugees to this country and to other countries throughout the world.
Such prioritization naturally results in programming that addresses the protection and assistance needs of victims of attacks and abuses, including those who are attacked on ethnic and religious grounds. It is important to underline that persecution based on religion is a consideration that is already assessed by a visa officer but the government does not track cases based on race, religion, sexual orientation, or ethnicity.
However, referrals by the UN Refugee Agency and other referral organizations and private sponsors mean that Canada is well-positioned to provide protection to the most vulnerable refugees identified by our partners, including religious minorities like Yazidis. We know from anecdotal information that some Yazidis have been successfully resettled to Canada. For that, we are thankful. However, we are unable to provide the specific number of Yazidis who have been resettled because we do not track refugees according to their ethnicity or their religious affiliation.
I must also note that there are limits to what our dedicated visa officers can achieve in places such as Iraq and Syria, where the safety and security of all who are there continue to be at significant risk. Indeed, our recent trip was undertaken under top secret classification, and it is only now that I am able to report that it has concluded. The region's instability makes it extremely difficult to reach these vulnerable Yazidis in order to identify and interview them in an effort to get them out of Iraq. We have to ensure that we do not endanger them or other vulnerable groups or place our immigration field officers in harm's way.
With respect to what we have been doing in the region, I would highlight the efforts we have made with the Syrian population, which has captured the attention of the world. We have heard this referenced this morning already.
Canadians and permanent residents of this country have stepped forward in a compassionate, tolerant, open, and internationally engaged manner to sponsor and welcome Syrian refugees under various programs, including the private sponsorship program. We have witnessed a truly national effort in this regard, collaboration by government and non-government actors, service provider organizations, the private sponsors themselves, the public and private sectors, and people from literally coast to coast to coast. Those efforts have attracted the attention of many countries around the world, attention that has added to our country's long-standing tradition of a well-respected international reputation for generosity and humanitarianism.
In respect of that tradition, members of the House agree that this type of issue is an important issue that needs to be addressed. If there is an opportunity wherein we can work collaboratively with parties across the aisle to come up with a non-partisan approach to how we can best assist the Yazidi people, that is exactly the type of opportunity we are looking to explore. This includes welcoming persecuted and vulnerable groups, whether from the Middle East, Iraq, or elsewhere, including those fleeing war zones and those in need of legal or physical protection.
Canada resettles refugees to save lives and to provide stability to those who are fleeing persecution.
This past year has been our most ambitious year ever, in terms of refugee resettlement. The compassion and fairness that we have seen is justifiably a source of great pride for Canadians, the Canadian government, and all parliamentarians. These values are at the core of our refugee program and our resettlement assistance program, which have been praised by the United Nations Refugee Agency as recently as the summit in September in New York.
We will continue to provide protection to individual cases with compelling protection needs around the world. Once again, I believe all of us can agree that the actions of Daesh, as have been witnessed and as have been documented by the UN and other actors, are brutal, are unjustified, and should be soundly condemned.
The member for Calgary Nose Hill referenced in her comments the actions taken by the House of Commons Standing Committees on Citizenship and Immigration with respect to a study on internally displaced people and vulnerable groups, which included the Yazidis, among other groups.
The fact that the study was undertaken under the leadership of the chair of the committee and by the members of three different parties who sit on that committee and there was a unanimous decision taken about pursuing that kind of study, that is exactly the type of non-partisan collegial co-operation that we need to see more of in the House in addressing this kind of issue. When we are dealing with genocide, partisanship has no place in the discussion. I firmly believe that and I believe my colleagues opposite firmly believe that.
We heard from many witnesses that day, including Ms. Murad on behalf of the Yazidi people. She testified before our committee. She has been around the world talking about the Yazidi people. She testified at the United Nations in September. Her testimony was compelling. It was moving. It was a call to action.
That kind of call to action has been answered by this government in the past, whether it was Hungary, Vietnam, or Uganda. Parenthetically, I am a by-product of that kind of call to action because I came here as a Ugandan Asian refugee in 1972. We have heard a call to action for Kosovo. We have heard calls to action for Syria. We have responded to those calls to action. With co-operation and with a collaborative approach, I am confident we can address the call to action here.
There are great challenges, as I have outlined, in terms of offering Canada's protection to people in danger and turmoil. What I can do is assure the House that the Department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship is actively exploring options to respond to these challenges. The trip that was recently taken into northern Iraq is a testament to the action that is being taken.
What we are trying to do is support the basic needs of those most affected by the conflicts in Iraq and Syria, to support the stabilization of areas that are newly liberated from Daesh, and to bolster the investigative and judicial processes so that perpetrators of atrocities are held responsible. We have also taken action on the international development front. As the Minister of International Development has stated:
Canada’s assistance will help meet the urgent health, shelter, protection, education and food needs of hundreds of thousands of affected civilians. Our assistance will also support organizations responding to incidents of violence and sexual abuse, particularly against women and girls, who have been disproportionately affected by the current crisis.
Over the next three years, Canada will be contributing $840 million in humanitarian assistance and $270 million in development assistance, in addition to the $145 million already dedicated to counter-terrorism, stabilization, and security programming in the region. That is on the monetary front. There is significant diplomatic engagement. There is significant co-operation with our allies, both at the UN and among nation states, which we are also engaged in. We will continue to provide protection to individual cases with compelling protection needs around the world.
I appreciate the opportunity to speak to this important topic. It is something that is personally meaningful to me as a former war crimes prosecutor. It is something that is inherently meaningful to everyone in this chamber, because when we are dealing with genocide and there is a call to action, a collaborative approach is required and Canadians and parliamentarians need to speak with one voice.