OTTAWA - A promise to resettle 1,200 people who escaped torture and persecution at the hands of Islamic militants is within reach by the end of the year, immigration officials said Tuesday.
A total of 807 people had arrived in Canada by the end of October out of the 1,383 who've been selected for resettlement, and the remaining files are being processed, officials told the House of Commons immigration committee.
Of those already here, 81 per cent are Yazidi, a minority sect from Iraq specifically targeted by Islamic militants over the course of the conflict in Iraq.
The House of Commons unanimously passed a motion in 2016 calling the persecution of Yazidis a genocide and committing to provide asylum to Yazidi women and girls.
A subsequent commitment to bringing in 1,200 people by the end of 2017 was made last February.
Islamic State militants have taken a systematic approach to trying to eradicate the Yazidi population since the outbreak of conflict in Iraq in 2014.
Some 200,000 Yazidis were displaced in the initial clashes between militants, Iraqi government forces and the Kurdish militia. Yazidi women, girls and boys were routinely sold into slavery, while older men were forced to convert or be killed.
"Given the extensive trauma these individuals have survived, including torture, sexual violence, death of their family members in front of them, there are a tremendous amount of psychosocial supports that need to be put in place," Dawn Edlund, an official with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, told the committee.
The newcomers have largely been settled in four cities — Winnipeg, Calgary, Toronto and London, Ont., — because there were already pockets of Yazidis there to help provide some of that support, Edlund said.
Still, finding translators who can speak the Yazidi's primary language of Kurmanji has been among the issues newcomers have already faced.
The resettlement program has also been complicated by a number of other factors.
Refugees are not generally tracked by religion or ethnicity and figuring out which among those seeking resettlement were Yazidi required the population to, in part, self-identify. The UN and other partners agencies also sought to find candidates.
Some Yazidis have argued the UN discriminates against them, because their staff in the region are Muslim, aren't interested in helping, and delay processing their forms, Conservative MP Michelle Rempel told the committee Tuesday.
Meanwhile, only a fraction of Yazidis live in the refugee camps that are the traditional source of UN resettlement efforts. For those displaced within Iraq, resettlement has required the consent of local government.
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. Based on testimony before the committee, a previous version said 1,383 cases were being processed.