by Doris Strub Epstein
Fleeing genocide from ISIS and inhumane conditions in refugee camps in Turkey and Iraq, thousands of Yazidis are risking their lives on rubber dinghies to reach the Greek island of Lesbos. More than 200 have drowned in the Aegean sea.
Steve Maman, Montreal businessman, dubbed the Jewish Schindler for his rescue of the captive women and girls held in enslavement by ISIS in Iraq, is spearheading a mission to help the Yazidis stranded in Greece get to Germany, which has the second largest community of their people in the world.
I spoke to him Saturday night, just before he boarded the plane at Montreal’s Dorval airport for his second visit in a month to Greece. “Right now 450 are waiting,” he said. “They have no food, no money, just the shelter of the port.” Steve has raised 60,000 Euros for their welfare and to help them get to Germany.
Tens of thousands of different nationalities are waiting in Greece -Afgans, Iranians, Moroccans, Syrians and some Africans. Unlike Canada, who is ignoring the most at- risk refugees – those who have been declared targets of genocide by ISIS and only focuses on bringintthe Syrians to Canada, the Greek government has just issued a decree that only those targeted for genocide would have priority. “We are the only NGO’s helping them specifically,” Steve said.
It was a year ago that Steve Maman, the father of a young family, founded the Liberation of Christian and Yazidi Children of Iraq (CYCI), to rescue Christian and Yazidi girls kidnapped by IS terrorists, then used and sold as sex slaves in northern Iraq.
Now CYCI has is helping those who have escaped from IS enclaves and from refugee camps in Iraq and Turkey, where they are abused by the authorities and live in abysmal conditions. Majid, a Yazidi living in Toronto, said his family was told to get out of the camp and return to their village, where IS forces were four miles away.
When the Yazidis reach the Greek island of Lesbos, they could be stranded there for months. CYCI finds them, provides them with food, medication, clothing and money and helps them fill out the paperwork needed for the trip to Germany.
A month ago, his first visit, Steve aimed at helping 613 reach Germany because “with the funds we have, I never thought we could surpass that number”. But they managed to assist 1,055 Yazidis and his new goal is 1,200 to “match the Oscar Schindler number of Jews he saved during the Holocaust”.
“Yazidis are not getting any kind of assistance. They are so lost and CYCI becomes a little bit of a flashlight for them,” he said. “We stay with them all the way through until they get on the boat and once they’re on the boat we have someone on that group who actually stays in touch with them all the way to Germany. We have numerous groups that already got to Germany that we stay in touch with.”
Steve compared the situation in Lesbos to that of Jews escaping Nazi concentration camps. He said, “It’s very similar to Jews who were able to escape the Nazi camps only to die in the forest of hunger, of cold along the way out of Germany …If I tell you about the amount of phone calls and messages we deal with everyday from people who are stuck in the middle of the way, it’s surreal.”
He told of a 14 year old Yazidi girl who was put in jail in Lesbos because she was alone and a minor. Her parents were in Kurdistan and were unable to travel. CYCI found the girl’s brother living in Germany and sent him a plane ticket to come and get his sister. Two CYCI members met him in Athens and then drove him to the police station , a seven hour drive away, where he proved he was the girl’s brother and was able to get her released from jail.
“My people are calling me from Iraq,” said Mirza Ismail, Chairman Yazidi Human Rights Organization International. “They all know and appreciate what Steve is doing. God bless you and your team.”
Last August, over 5,000 Yazidis were murdered, sometimes en masse, in Iraq’s Sinjar district and surrounding area. Thousands of women and girls, as young as eight, have been sold as sex slaves or taken as “brides” by IS fighters. According to Maman, about 2,700 remain in captivity in IS held territory. “We’ll be lucky if we get half of them”, he said.
Thus far, Minister of Immigration and Refugees, John McCallum is sticking to bringing only Syrian refugees to Canada, and continues to ignore the refugees most at risk from declared IS genocide – the Yazidis, the Assyrian Christians, the Mandaens, the Bahai. Repeated calls from CIJNEWS to the Minister for an interview are not answered. Likewise, the barrage of Emails and phone calls to his office from groups and individuals protesting the abandonment of these people by the Canadian government.