OTTAWA – Yazidi-Canadians begged Prime Minister Stephen Harper to help their people in Iraq in an emotional rally on Parliament Hill Friday as the United States dropped bombs on the country’s Islamic militants.
Iraq’s minority Yazidi community has been terrorized by Islamic militants in the country’s north to a point some have called a genocide.
Kajtoon Shammo, an Iraqi-born Canadian who travelled overnight from London, Ont., dropped to her knees holding a sign reading “Save the children.”
“Please Canada, I’m on my knees. Please Canada, I’m begging you: These are our families, these are our children dying by seconds. Please,” she cried.
“I’m begging you. Please Canada, please, stop this genocide. Stop. We want to live.”
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Shammo wants Canada to pressure countries bordering Iraq to open their borders and allow the Yazidi people to flee.
In a statement, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said Canada supports the U.S. but has no plans to step in militarily.
“Canada supports all efforts, including United States supply drops and airstrikes, to protect civilians from ISIS terrorists. We continue to stand with those who support the Iraqi people, including the Kurdish Peshmerga soldiers who are bravely fighting this brutal terrorism,” Baird said.
“Canadian officials, including Canada’s ambassador to Iraq, who is based in Jordan, will be working to determine how best to support the Iraqi people with the current security and humanitarian challenges. We have received no request for military assistance and will continue to monitor the situation in concert with our allies.”
Thousands of Yazidi people have been trapped with limited food and water in Iraq’s Sinjar mountains after fleeing the northwestern town of Sinjar, seized by militants last week.
Foreign Affairs estimates up to 200,000 Yazidi, Christian and other religious communities in Iraq have been displaced.
On Friday U.S. fighters began to bomb Islamic militants after Obama authorized the airstrikes late Thursday.
Harper will be in Edmundston, N.B. Friday afternoon to deliver remarks at the opening ceremony of the World Acadian Congress.
The Prime Minister’s Office referred questions about whether Canada was prepared to help the Yazidis to Baird and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander.
In an email, Alexander’s spokeswoman said the government has resettled more than 18,200 Iraqi refugees in Canada since 2009, and committed to resettle 5,000 refugees out of Turkey by 2018, the majority of which are Iraqi.
“Our government has made special efforts to lend assistance to victims of violence and to those suffering political and religious persecution in Iraq,” spokeswoman Codie Taylor said.
She said the government is looking at providing more support through existing refugee resettlement programs.
“Our government takes this situation very seriously and will continue to build on our record of taking decisive action to resettle this religious minority facing persecution by Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terrorists.”
The Yazidis, who follow an ancient religion with ties to Zoroastrianism, fled their homes after the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (also called the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) issued an ultimatum to convert to Islam, pay a religious fine, flee their homes or face death.
Samir Kawal,18 has family members in Iraq. He wants the Canadian government to step in and stop the slaughter.
“Please Stephen Harper, help us out now. People are dying. Kids are being murdered, women are being sold, women are being raped, men are being killed. Please help us all out now. People are starving to death, people are being murdered, men are being slaughtered,” he said.
“It’s already too late. Open your eyes, open your heart. Please help the Yazidis back home. These are our people, these are our men, these are our women, these are our children.
“We need help now and we need to stop the ISIS Islamic state terrorism group once and for all before it’s too late.”
– With files from the Associated Press
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird’s full statement:
“Canada continues to condemn the repugnant killing of innocent civilians including women and children from Christian, Yazidi, and other religious and minority communities in northern Iraq by the terror group ISIS.
“Canada supports all efforts, including United States supply drops and airstrikes, to protect civilians from ISIS terrorists. We continue to stand with those who support the Iraqi people, including the Kurdish Peshmerga soldiers who are bravely fighting this brutal terrorism.
“Canadian officials, including Canada’s ambassador to Iraq, who is based in Jordan, will be working to determine how best to support the Iraqi people with the current security and humanitarian challenges. We have received no request for military assistance and will continue to monitor the situation in concert with our allies.
“Canada will continue to support the Iraqi government’s fight against ISIS. We call on Iraqi leaders to come together to govern for all Iraqis, regardless of religion, and for the sake of the security, democracy and prosperity of the Iraqi people.”