Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to join the debate today, both as the deputy critic for foreign affairs for the Conservative Party, as well as the chair of the Parliamentary Friends of the Kurds. This is a group that I started on Parliament Hill when I first came here. It was actually a promise that I made during the election to non-constituents, people who lived outside my riding whom I met. They told me their stories and those of their neighbours, friends, and family members who lived in northern Iraq, in southern Kurdistan.
I also moved Motion No. 72 in the House, which called on the House to recognize the genocide of the Kurds during the 1980s. This is a region where genocide is simply a way of life. Multiple groups have done it to others. It is a region of the world with very little central control by governments and where the borders are quite fluid.
Next week, I will be hosting Pastor Ray Baythoon of a Christian and Missionary Alliance church from the region. As well, he is the director general of Christian affairs of the Kurdish regional government there. This is something I deeply care about. It is an issue that I have kept myself apprised of and on which I share information with fellow members of the Parliamentary Friends of the Kurds group.
We know there have been reports of 25,000 refugees being accepted so far into Canada from Syria. There are nine cases, supposedly, that can be identified as Yazidi. If, as members of the government and government backbenchers have said, this is something of great importance to them, one would think that more than nine out of 25,000 would be prioritized.
As the member for Peace River—Westlock said, this is an identifiable group against whom genocide has been committed and continues to be committed. One would think they would be the ones to be prioritized for entry into Canada. That is what this motion seeks to do. We want to prioritize this group for entry into the country.
Media reports indicate that 25,000 Yazidis live in UN refugee camps in Turkey, a NATO ally of ours. Have we approached Turkey? Have we even asked about taking these Yazidis to assist that NATO ally of ours and reduce its burden? It has many internally displaced persons who come from different parts of Turkey, Syria, and northern Iraq. They have crossed Turkey's borders and are seeking refuge in it, and the Turkish government has extended aid to them.
I want to take a different stance perhaps than other members have taken so far. I want to talk about the good work being done by a Canadian and American organization, Samaritan's Purse. It is doing incredible work assisting Yazidis directly in the region. I know Samaritan's Purse has three refugee camps east of the city of Mosul and is assisting people right now fleeing the battle to retake that city, where our courageous allies, the Kurds of the Kurdish regional government, will be playing a major role in liberating the city. It also has camps all over northwestern Iraq providing direct assistance to Yazidi groups. Many of these Canadians have first-hand accounts of assisting Yazidis.
Samaritan's Purse operates something called the Northern Iraq Community Center. In this community center, there are services for families that have been victimized and traumatized by ISIS, also known as Daesh. They have had programs since October 2015 teaching carpentry skills, among many other things. This gives Yazidis opportunities to learn new and marketable skills, and give them a chance at a better life. Photography, art, cooking and nutrition, and literacy are the next programs to be offered. As the Minister of Immigration said, it is equipping them for future success. Samaritan's Purse is is also offering sewing classes to bring women together to learn to make garments. They are generating an income. As a graduation gift from this program, they receive a sewing machine of their own so they have a chance to become entrepreneurs to rebuild their lives in the region, if they so choose.
Other programs exist to address the psychological needs of many of these internally displaced persons. They have suffered significant trauma from ISIS fighters, as well as from pre-existing conditions that have been worsened by the conflict and the displacement.
There is a new medical clinic that was started by Samaritan's Purse in 2016. It offers doctors, obstetric services, gynecologists, a dentist, and a pharmacy. There is even space for children made available so that the children can come together. They have been broken by the war, with some of their family members having been murdered by ISIS fighters. This gives them an opportunity to be children, to play with other children in playgrounds and to have an opportunity to be safe with people they trust.
We know the impact of this program. In 2016 alone, I am told that 13,800 Yazidi people have been served. It is a $2.5 U.S. million project that is helping people on the ground directly.
Canadians are on the ground in these places and are doing more to help these Yazidis and other displaced people survive than what the government has done so far, compared to the supposed nine Yazidi cases the government has prioritized out of 25,000 refugees.
I got to visit the Samaritan's Purse headquarters in Calgary, just north of my riding. It is an incredible place, with hundreds of staff members who do assistance work and disaster relief work anywhere in the world. They have a unit on 24-hour standby mode. Within 24 hours, they can be anywhere in the world. They have their own planes. They have their own equipment. They provide direct assistance to those who need it anywhere in the world. They are incredibly committed to the most vulnerable in Iraq, especially in south Kurdistan.
I have had an opportunity in the past to meet both missionaries and assistance workers on the ground who have been to northern Iraq and have travelled back to Canada. They have told me incredible stories about these survivors, people who could never have imagined that what happened at Mount Sinjar could continue to happen while the world turns a blind eye.
Just to use some of the terms that have been used in newspapers, the western world has been accused of “negligence” and “silence” at what ISIS has continued to do, including the rape, torture, killing, and enslavement of Yazidis.
In the past Canada has served as a refuge for many ethnic groups from all across the world. This has been a story of Canada for well over a hundred years, whether they be Ukrainian or Polish people, South Vietnamese boat people, the 1999 airlift of 7,000 Kosovo refugees, the 1980s resettlement of 2,800 Baha'i refugees from Iran, and the 1956-57 37,000 Hungarian refugees who fled persecution by a communist regime controlled by the Soviet Union.
To his eternal credit, it was the former prime minister, the Right Hon. Joe Clark, who accepted 60,000 Vietnamese boat people. They have since made enormous contributions to Canada. I am going to underline the contribution of one of these South Vietnamese who first came to the United States on the final airlift out of Saigon.
He is Wayne Cao, the former MLA for Calgary-Fort. He was a refugee then, who came aboard an American helicopter, landed in California, and made his home in Calgary in 1976, where he represented the constituents of Calgary-Fort in the northern part of my riding. He became deputy speaker, earning the trust of his colleagues, in 2008. If he is looking now, I want to thank him for his service to Alberta and Canada. I actually picked up his constituency office in this past election. It is a great office. It serves constituents on the northern part of the riding really well. Wayne has made an amazing contribution to Canada.
Seeing the opportunities that the South Vietnamese have had in Canada, I know that the Yazidis could also contribute to Canada if we prioritize their entry here. They need it. They need this help just like the South Vietnamese needed it; just like the Baha'i of Iran needed it; just like Polish people needed it, who were fleeing the communist Polish regime from 1981 to 1986, which was persecuting people, especially shipyard workers. My father came to Canada in those years and got amnesty then. He got to stay in Canada and was then able to sponsor us here.
Before I finish, I want to move:
That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word “slaves” and substituting the following:
“(c) support recommendations found in the June 15, 2015, report issued by the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Syria entitled, “They came to destroy: ISIS Crimes Against the Yazidis”; and (d) call on the government to (i) take immediate action upon all the recommendations found in sections 210, 212, and 213 of the said report, (ii) provide asylum to Yazidi women and girls within 120 days.