WINNIPEG — A Yazidi boy who was held captive for three years by Iraqi militants got his wish to meet with Justin Trudeau, simply by showing up to the prime minister’s town hall meeting in Winnipeg.
Thirteen-year-old Emad Mishko Tamo made a video appeal to Trudeau that was posted to social media by the Yazidi Association of Manitoba last month.
But a spokesman for the group says they never heard back from Trudeau, and decided to try to see him at the forum at the University of Manitoba on Wednesday.
Hadji Hesso says when Emad arrived at the venue with his uncle, political staffers approached him and brought him to a dressing room, where he met Trudeau for about five minutes.
Emad was reunited with his family in Winnipeg last year after a relative saw his picture, taken in a refugee camp, on social media.
Hesso says they’d hoped for a much longer meeting with Trudeau, so Emad could talk more about the plight of other Yazidi children and bringing more refugees to Canada.
“It was not the meeting that we were looking for,” said Hesso, who is a spokesman for the family. “But hopefully this is just the beginning.”
“We requested a further meeting, another meeting, to discuss more details — if possible in Ottawa — but nothing has been confirmed yet.”
Emad was separated from his family after the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant displaced thousands of members of the Kurdish-minority Yazidis in 2014. He was freed last summer in the city of Mosul.
In the Yazidi Association’s video, Emad held up a sign thanking Canada for helping him, followed by another sign stating that he wanted to share his story and be a voice for other Yazidi children still in captivity.
“There’s a thousand other kids like me who are still held captive,” one of Emad’s signs stated. “Hon. Justin Trudeau, will you meet me?”
Hesso said he got to the Max Bell Centre at the University of Manitoba early, and was waiting for Emad to arrive with his uncle and another representative with the Yazidi association. The plan wasn’t complicated — just try to find the prime minister.
But Hesso said he got a text telling him Emad was already with the prime minister.
During the short meeting, Hesso said Emad gave Trudeau a list of some of the issues he hoped the government could address.
“Emad was excited,” Hesso said, but noted more time was needed.
“We were hoping for something better, longer, more detailed.”
The day before the town hall, Conservative MP Michelle Rempel posted a Facebook video where she criticized Trudeau for failing to meet with Emad, noting the prime minister did meet with freed hostage Joshua Boyle.
Boyle and his family were rescued in Pakistan in October after five years of captivity in Afghanistan. Less than two weeks after their meeting with Trudeau, Ottawa police laid 15 criminal charges against Boyle, including eight counts of assault and two counts of sexual assault.
“The plight of the Yazidi people is something we should be prioritizing here in Canada and I can think of no better emissary than a young boy who has survived this and has the courage to speak for his people,” Rempel said in the video.
The House of Commons unanimously passed a motion in 2016 calling the persecution of Yazidis a genocide, and committing to provide asylum to Yazidi women and girls.
An email last month from a spokesman for Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen stated that as of Dec. 31, 2017, the government issued just over 1,200 visas to government-supported survivors of ISIL.
More than 1,000 had arrived in Canada and 81 per cent of them were Yazidi, the email stated.
However, the email stated that the government would not be receiving any new applications under the initiative.