WINNIPEG — A Winnipeg woman who escaped the horrors of captivity at the hands of Iraqi militants was overjoyed to recently discover that her 12-year-old son has been rescued and is recovering from gunshot wounds at a refugee camp.
Now, the mission for Nofa Mihlo Zaghla has become getting Canadian officials to help reunite her with her boy.
On Wednesday, the Yazidi Association of Manitoba went public with her story in the hopes of spurring officials to act quickly to get young Emad to Canada.
“We’re asking to bring that child to be reunited with his mother,” pleaded association president Hadji Hesso, his voice filled with passion. “That’s all we want. That’s all the mother wants. It’s all the child wants.”
The Yazidi are a Kurdish minority which practise an ancient faith and have been persecuted by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant — also known as Daesh, ISIL or ISIS — for their religious beliefs.
The United Nations has called for countries around the world to accelerate the asylum applications of Yazidi victims of genocide. In February, the federal government announced plans to take in about 1,200 survivors, specifically vulnerable Yazidi women and children and their families.
According to a letter written by the Manitoba association to members of Parliament, Zaghla lived peacefully with her husband and six children in Iraq until the summer of 2014 when her village was attacked.
They were captured and lived in captivity for two years, during which time the association said she was forced to serve as a sex slave to the militants.
But as they were moved from place to place, she became separated from her husband and her two oldest sons, and when she managed to escape with four of her children during an attack on their compound, she made her way to Canada with no expectation she would see them again.
Recently, however, a relative spotted photos of her boy Emad on a website that indicated he had been rescued by the Iraqi army. The photos depicted a weary-looking boy covered in dirt and scratches, dressed in filthy and tattered clothes and clutching a bottle of water.
“When they find children … they take pictures, especially for children and women, and they put them on social media,” explained Hesso. “Hopefully somebody will come forward and recognize that child or that girl or that woman.”
In this case, relatives were able to see the boy and ensure it was Emad.
“He was shot in the arm and in the stomach, and the right side,” said Hesso. “Her husband, we still don’t know. The other son, we still don’t know anything about them.”
Zaghla, who doesn’t speak English, has been talking with her son “every hour, thanks to Facebook and Messenger,” said Hesso. “She was crying and happy at the same time. Tears of happiness.”
Hesso said the boy is in good hands for the moment, but not where he should be.
“Safe? A 12-year-old child is not safe unless he is in the arms of his mother. That’s what we know; that’s the language we understand. But he is safe.”
The association is getting help from the Kurdish Initiative for Refugees and Winnipeg Friends of Israel, and Hesso said immigration officials have been contacted.
“They said they’re working on it, and we asked them on a couple of occasions to treat this like a special case. We don’t want to be filling applications and documentation and such and such — we even offered to pay for the flight, as a matter of fact.”
He said Zaghla is thankful for everything Canada has done for her family, but he personally finds it “very disappointing” the Canadian government has not done as much for the Yazidi as they have for Syrian refugees.
“We have churches, communities, groups, the private sponsorship, and we have not seen a single family for almost a year and a half,” he said.
“Absolutely she’s grateful to Canada. But we need action; we need the government to react quicker and faster.”