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This article was published 5/9/2016 (1104 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Ask any child how they feel about going back to school this week and they'll likely say excited, nervous, happy or sad. If you ask the six Naso children, they'll say lucky.
They were among thousands of ethnic minority Yazidis chased out of northern Iraq by the Islamic State to a refugee camp where they were segregated for their protection. On the day of their rescue by Winnipeg sponsors, the family narrowly missed a deadly terror attack on Istanbul's Ataturk Airport.
This week, the children will be attending classes at Harrow School and Grant Park High School, and they know they're fortunate.
"We wish we could bring everyone here," high school student Saood said through an interpreter. He and his siblings stay in touch with friends and relatives who are among the 25,000 Yazidis stuck in refugee camps in Turkey. As a persecuted religious minority, they were segregated in the camps for their own protection and couldn't go to school, said his cousin Nafiya Naso, who came to Winnipeg as a refugee when she was a child nearly two decades ago.
Saood and his siblings spoke through an interpreter to the Free Press Monday night about going back to school. Since they arrived in Canada in July, they and their parents have received some English language instruction thanks to their sponsors with Operation Ezra, a coalition of faith groups led by Winnipeg's Jewish and Yazidi communities.
"It's a huge difference from where I went to school," said Saood's younger brother Khalid. None of the Naso children has attended school since 2014 when approaching Islamic State terrorists forced the family to flee their village of Khansor. "There, the walls were made of mud and there was no electricity," Khalid said. "Here, it's beautiful," he said recalling a recent tour of Harrow School. "I'm excited to make new friends."
His sister Roz, who starts Grade 2 on Wednesday, said once she met her teacher, she was excited about going back to school. "She was really nice. She was always smiling," Roz said.
"We have a good feeling we're going to integrate well," said Ahmed, who is going into Grade 12 at nearby Grant Park High School. They've had a chance to meet young people their age in Winnipeg since arriving this summer, he said with a baseball game on TV muted in the background . "They're all very kind. Canadian kids have everything (but) everybody wants to help," said Ahmed.
"I can't thank Canada enough for giving me this opportunity to come from hell," said the children's father, Khuder Naso Chalo, "and for my kids to go to school and get jobs and learn the language." He and his wife Munifa Hussein Khalaf start orientation classes at the Entry Program on Sept. 6.
Their family is the first of seven Yazidi refugee families to arrive in Canada sponsored by Operation Ezra. Their sponsors have asked the Canadian government to rescue many more Yazidis and are expecting an answer later this month.
In late July, Nafiya Naso with Winnipeg’s Yazidi community and Lorne Weiss, vice-president of Shaarey Zedek Synagogue, spoke to the House of Commons standing committee on citizenship and immigration studying what Canada can do through immigration measures to help the Yazidis and other threatened minorities.
The committee spent three days hearing from people such as Naso and Weiss and looking at vulnerable populations in urgent need of protection around the world — from the threatened Rohingya in Myanmar to the Yazidis, who have been targeted for genocide by the Islamic State, to the humanitarian crisis of displaced people in eastern Ukraine. The committee's report is expected by mid-September.
"We are hoping the recommendations will include something along the lines of the initiative for the Syrian refugees in 2015," said Nafiya Naso. "The government has welcomed 26,000 Syrian nationals in only six months. It has taken us over one year to get our first nine people to Winnipeg." A cousin arrived this summer after the Naso Chalo family of eight landed in Winnipeg in July.
"...We need the government to step up and play a larger role in the sponsorship process, we need to have Yazidi sponsorship papers fast tracked and more urgency from the government to act on behalf of a community that is becoming extinct," she said.
Private sponsors such as Operation Ezra, which raised nearly $300,000 and has a small army of committed volunteers, aren't enough to handle the urgent "mass action needed to save the Yazidi nation from extinction," she said. "It takes much too long and is much too expensive for the private sector to bear," said Naso. They're hoping the Canadian government will bring 5,000 Yazidis to Canada in 2016. "The situation in Turkey is becoming very unstable, as well, as the country is falling into turmoil," she said.
"Canada has an opportunity to do something no other country has done to date," said Naso. "Canada can become the hope Yazidis need at this time."
"We're a very peaceful people," said Khuder Naso Chalo. "All we're looking for is peace."
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.