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OPERATION EZRA – 2017 ends with 45 Yazidi refugees starting a new life in Winnipeg!

posted December 8, 2017


In the summer of 2014, Laila Mushko and her family fled their village in Iraq after it was overrun by ISIS. With only the clothes on their back, they fled to Mount Sinjar and then, ultimately to the Midyat refugee camp in Turkey.


Just over three years later, thanks to the efforts of Operation Ezra, Laila and her family are settled in Winnipeg where they are successfully integrating into Canadian Society.  Today, Laila, her husband Baker and their children, Fawziya, Diyar, Ayman, Hanna, Nagham, Khairi, Rani, Rana and Anita are living in the Grant Park area of Winnipeg. They are studying English, the children are attending school at Grand Park and Earl Grey and the teenagers are working part time jobs at restaurants across the city. Baker, who was disabled by polio at a young age, dreams of being able to walk again. Through the efforts of Operation Ezra donors and volunteers, he has been provided a wheelchair to help with mobility and has been assessed by local doctors who are exploring the use of a customized brace and shoes to allow him to stand on his own.


Laila and Baker’s family are but one of the ten families and two of the 55 individuals that have now been sponsored by Operation Ezra. Since our last update in May, two more of the sponsored families have recently arrived in Winnipeg with the final family scheduled to arrive by the end of this calendar year . We look forward to introducing you to other sponsored families in our future updates.


Operation Ezra’s primary objectives continue to be twofold and go hand in hand: increasing awareness of the plight of the Yazidi people and sponsoring and settling Yazidi families. The modest goal of raising $35,000 to sponsor one Yazidi family of four has now been exceeded more than tenfold with over $500,000 raised to sponsor ten families of varying sizes. Our fundraising efforts continue in an effort to privately sponsor even more families with a target of two additional families per year starting in 2018.


The Operation Ezra coalition is comprised of an ever-expanding group of community based multi-faith organizations and corporate partners. A large team of dedicated volunteers continues to be the backbone of Operation Ezra’s efforts, with new volunteers always welcome and needed.


A volunteer driven weekly EAL program held at Temple Shalom on Thursday evenings has proven hugely successful. In addition to providing English language training to supplement the government run EAL classes, the Thursday evening classes have provided a regular opportunity for socializing among and between the families and community volunteers.  In addition to teaching English, volunteers have been invaluable in finding employment opportunities, driving family members to appointments, assisting with resettlement activities and identifying suitable housing, which has proven particularly challenging.


Efforts have been made to secure housing for all of the families in the same general neighbourhood, thereby reducing feelings of isolation and fostering a sense of community among the newcomers. Supporting this sense of community among the Yazidi families has been a priority of Operation Ezra as a critical component of successful resettlement.


For the coming year, the Operation Ezra team has a number of priorities. Of utmost urgency are our efforts to continue to sponsor and settle additional Yazidi families from the over 3000 families who are hoping to come to Canada. Operation Ezra provides full financial support to the families during their first twelve months in Canada, and as a result, ongoing fundraising remains critical. At the same time, we will continue to support all of our privately sponsored families as they adjust to life in Winnipeg – be it through programming, through social or educational support, or through the ongoing provision of clothes, furniture or local services. To that end, we will continue to seek out community and corporate donations, which have been vital to the settlement process.


In addition to the families privately sponsored by Operation Ezra, there are a number of government sponsored Yazidi families in Winnipeg. Operation Ezra has begun providing some support to these families, largely through our community and corporate partners who have been making furniture, clothing and shoes available to these community members. The families have also been invited to participate in the Temple Shalom EAL classes, as well as various community social events, all in an effort to strengthen and build a sense of community for all of the Yazidi newcomers.


Along with our sponsorship and settlement efforts, Operation Ezra plans to continue its advocacy and awareness work. This includes regular interactions with politicians from both our Provincial and Federal Governments as well as presentations to a growing number of groups in various communities across the city.


The value of the community support received by Operation Ezra cannot be overstated. Every dollar and donation received has been essential to our sponsorship and resettlement efforts and means that more Yazidi lives can be saved. Just as importantly have been the individual efforts to support and get to know the new members of our community as they adjust to a very different life and try to address the trauma associated with their persecution and departure from their ancestral homes in Northern Iraq. Those of us working with Operation Ezra have had our lives enriched through our volunteer work on this project and we look forward to continuing to expand and strengthen the Winnipeg Yazidi Community.    


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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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