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This article was published 26/6/2017 (902 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Efforts by Winnipeg’s Jewish community to rescue a persecuted religious minority are being questioned by some members of the group they sought to help.
In a letter to the Jewish Post and News late last month, members of the Yazidi community said they have some "very serious criticisms of how Operation Ezra has been operated." Operation Ezra is a multifaith campaign led by the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg to privately sponsor Yazidi refugees who were targeted for genocide by the Islamic State.
Seven families — 41 people in total who were living in refugee camps — have arrived in Winnipeg through Operation Ezra in the last 12 months.
"While we greatly appreciate everything that has been done on behalf of members of our community by Operation Ezra, there are many questions about how the families that have been brought here by Operation Ezra were selected," said the letter signed by 32 Yazidi community members.
The May 24 letter said they’ve tried to raise their concerns with Operation Ezra leaders and their concerns were dismissed.
"We’ve never been invited to meet with them or consulted," said Hadji Hesso, director of the Canadian Yazidi Association. Operation Ezra is consulting with one person in the Yazidi community who doesn’t belong to the Yazidi association and whose family members have been sponsored by the charitable group, he said.
A spokesman for Operation Ezra said they’ve shared information about their selection process with critics in the Yazidi community.
Michel Aziza said families are selected by a committee made up of "respectable and respected individuals" representing some of the most active organizations behind Operation Ezra. The selection is based on the amount of funding available and the applicants’ eligibility. They must have valid Iraqi passports and UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) registration letters and numbers, and can confirm they’re willing to leave the refugee camp and emigrate to Canada.
Preference is given to young families or families that have grown children who can easily find jobs after their arrival in Winnipeg, he said.
Aziza admitted the first two families sponsored by Operation Ezra are related to Nafiya Naso and her extended family.
"This is simply because Nafiya is the reason why the project was launched in the first place," Aziza said.
"At the time, she was the only Yazidi person speaking out on the plight of her people. She was also the only Yazidi person we knew."
In August 2014, Naso told the Free Press about family members in northern Iraq who faced death from Islamic State terrorists who were holding thousands of Yazidis under siege on top of Mount Sinjar. They faced death from exposure if they stayed on the desert mountain in blistering heat, or death and sexual slavery for the young women and girls if they surrendered.
Aziza said Operation Ezra was formed in response to their plight.
"When enough funds were raised for the first families, we just asked Nafiya (Naso) if she had relatives we could sponsor," said Aziza. The first family of eight are Nafiya’s aunt, uncle and cousins. The second family is a single 19-year-old man who left his family behind and is Nafiya’s cousin. "The subsequent five families as well as the next three families we are currently working on are not related to Nafiya."
Operation Ezra is the only one of its kind in North America, he said. The goal is to raise awareness of the plight of the Yazidi people and to bring as many to safety as they can with a focus on successful integration in a new life in Canada.
Hesso said the association has tried — and failed — to reach out to some of the newly arrived Yazidi families sponsored by Operation Ezra and invite them to community events such as their New Year’s celebration in April.
"They don’t talk to us. They say they can’t," said Hesso. "There’s someone who in some way won’t let them," he said. "They don’t want them to mix with the community." For the Yazidi New Year in April, two separate events were held for Winnipeg’s 200 Yazidis — one for the Operation Ezra newcomers and one for the Yazidi Canadian Association members.
"We want the community to be one," Hesso said. "We don’t want there to be any divides."
Carol Sanders’ reporting on newcomers to Canada has made international headlines, earned national recognition but most importantly it’s shared the local stories of the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home.
Updated on Monday, June 26, 2017 at 6:45 AM CDT: Adds photos