In July, the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg, Manitoba, launched Operation Ezra, which brought the first privately sponsored Yazidi family of refugees to Canada. Now it has taken on the mission to lead the charge in refugee relief and press the government to take in more families.
Yazidis are an ethnically Kurdish religious minority who have suffered brutality at the hands of the radical Islamic State group. During a systematic campaign against the Yazidis in 2014 in Sinjar, near Mosul, an estimated 3,000 to 5,000 civilians were killed and 5,000 to 7,000 abducted and enslaved, most of them women and children, according to the Global Yazidi Organization.
According to assessments, there are currently some 400,000 Yazidis in northern Iraq and Syria who are still in danger of murder and enslavement at the hands of IS terrorists.
The Operation Ezra coalition of Winnipeg, founded for the purpose of helping Yazidis fleeing persecution, recently announced that it had “raised just under $300,000” to help them.
“The monies collected go directly to supporting the families being sponsored through Operation Ezra,” the organization announced, and stated that “to date, the organization has submitted applications for a total of seven families, or 42 people altogether.”
The Canadian government allows for private sponsorship of refugees, but dictates that sponsors are 100% financially responsible for the refugees for the first 12 months after their arrival in the country. After that, the government bears financial responsibility for the family if needed. Operation Ezra also aims to help integrate those families into the community so that they can eventually sustain themselves.
Michel Aziza, a member of the Winnipeg Jewish Community and a co-founder of the Operation Ezra coalition of Winnipeg, said he was inspired to help the Yazidis because their plight reminded him of that suffered by European Jews during the Holocaust.
“Our group reached out to the Yazidi Community in March 2015, ” he told The Times of Israel, “to learn more about their plight and see what we, as a small group of individuals, could do to help.”
Shortly after launching Operation Ezra as a grassroots project, Aziza reached out to both the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg and Jewish Child and Family Services and asked if they would take the lead, allowing them to make the project a community-wide endeavor with far greater reach.
“This is ultimately what happened,” Aziza said, “and over the weeks and months that followed, we formed a coalition of 22 agencies and organizations.”
Now the organization is focused on changing Canadian policy and pressuring the government to accept more refugees. Last month, Canadian MPs voted unanimously to declare IS persecution against the Yazidis a genocide and vowed to bring Yazidi refugees fleeing persecution to Canada within four months.
“We reached out to as many MP’s as we could,” Aziza said, “and reached out to senior members of the current government. We held meetings with them, we had calls with them, we developed concepts and ideas for the government to consider. We even attended a parliamentary committee dealing with the plight of refugees in Ottawa last July.”
“We are the only organized effort focused on rescuing Yazidi refugees in North America. No one else has done what we have been able to accomplish so far,” Aziza said.
He said that The Jewish community of Winnipeg had rallied in order to help the refugees who were brought through Operation Ezra, helping them to adjust to their new home. He was happy to report that the family he had sponsored was doing well and that the kids were all enrolled in public school.
“We set up a small house for them and furnished the home with donated goods from the community as well as corporate sponsors like the Salvation Army and even IKEA,” Aziza said.
He said Operation Ezra constituted a community-wide effort to save lives.
“The Yazidi people we work with are infinitely grateful for what we have done,” he said. “We are the only community to have reached out to them and taken the lead in helping them save their own people. It is an amazing feeling.”