Refugee Health YYC is trying to help the Yazidi refugees who recently arrived in Calgary. These refugees, who were forced to leave their home country of Iraq to escape the genocide of their people, are now facing debilitating mental and physical struggles as they try to adjust to life in Canada. 

The Yazidi are an ethno-religious minority from Northern Iraq and Syria that primarily speak Kurmanji. Refugees that made it to Canada are survivors of Daesh, which is the Arabic acronym for ISIS. Daesh have been persecuting the Yazidis for decades now, killing and kidnapping thousands of people.

In 2016, thousands of Yazidis were freed or fled captivity. Over the next two years, Canada resettled around 1,400 refugees, including in Calgary.

Refugee Health YYC is an organization that researches the mental health impacts on refugee communities, specifically the Yazidi refugees. They take statistics, such as family separation, and see how many refugees have experienced it. They also look at what types of mental health issues the specific issue has caused, use that research to find ways to support and help them overcome the traumas associated.

Nour Hassan, a research assistant with the Refugee Health YYC, presented her research in a webinar series about immigrant and refugee mental health this past November. The webinar series was hosted by the Center for Addiction and Mental Health.

Hassan has been working with the local Yazidi refugee community to help them understand and improve their mental health.

“Daesh killed 5,000 Yazidis. They kidnapped 7,000 and then held [them] captive,” Hassan said. “[They] were subjected to horrible atrocities, including rape, torture and enslavement.”

Nour Hassan is a research assistant with the Refugee Health YYC Research Program at the University of Calgary. PHOTOGRAPHER UNKNOWN.

“They were resettled to Canada very shortly after [their] release from captivity. They experienced trauma and violence,” Hassan said. 

“What makes the Yazidi refugees significantly different from previous refugee arrivals to Canada is that the Yazidis are among the most highly traumatized groups,” Hassan explained. 

In addition to trying to help their mental health, Hassan has spent time researching some of the leading causes of the trauma amongst the group who resettled in Calgary. She observed 63 families, 60 of them having been separated. 

Hassan found being separated from family was one of the primary causes of their poor mental health. 

“I think the Government of Canada can greatly improve the mental health of patients by working to help with family reunification, but also ensuring that reunification policies don’t further fragment refugee families,” Hassan said.

In addition, having poor living conditions before fleeing have made the community especially vulnerable to poor mental and physical health.This means they require greater health care support.

Overall, Hassan’s study found that the Yazidi population in Calgary has suffered from a number of mental and physical ailments including PTSD, insomnia, depression, seizures, anxiety, infectious infectious diseases. 

Yazidi people currently receive support in finding jobs, housing, and accessing medical care from the government and organizations like Refugee Health YYC. 

This has helped them to adjust and settle in various places across Canada, and start the long journey of recovery from their trauma.

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