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Calgary to welcome 200 Yazidi refugees by end of year

Calgary to welcome 200 Yazidi refugees by end of year


U.N. report says ISIS seeking to destroy small religious minority community

CBC News Posted: Mar 22, 2017 1:02 PM MT Last Updated: Mar 22, 2017 1:06 PM MT

Dozens of Yazidi refugees are starting to settle into life in Calgary. 

They're among a larger community of about 1,200 the federal government has promised to resettle over the course of this year.

Fariborz Birjandian, with the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society, is helping the newcomers adjust. 

So far, 48 Yazidi refugees have arrived in Calgary, including one family of seven consisting of two sisters and their children. 

"The men, the members of their family, they are missing," said Birjandian. "Obviously, they have both been killed. Obviously, that is quite significant."

Persecuted minority

The Yazidis are a religious minority with a 6,000-year-old culture based mainly in northern Iraq. ISIS launched brutal attacks targeting the Yazidi community in August 2014.

Last June, a United Nations report said ISIS was seeking to destroy the community of 400,000 people through killings, sexual slavery and other crimes.


The refugees' arrival in Canada has been tightly controlled and kept largely under wraps — unlike the very public airport arrivals of some of the first Syrian refugees more than a year ago.

In January, Dawn Edlund, associate assistant deputy minister for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, said the government is carefully avoiding language that could lead to revictimization, and avoiding releasing any details publically that could put other relatives still in captivity at risk.

Resilient families

Back in Calgary, Birjandian says each of the families have managed to settle as best they can.

"They have a lot of question, a lot of fears coming to [Canada] but definitely they are really appreciative and they are very positive, actually. I'm very impressed with their resilience."

Birjandian said Calgary is one of four settlement locations in Canada, and the families are living close together because the Yazidi community is so small. 

Calgary will accept about 200 Yazidi refugees this year.



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Agencies push back against Coulter's attacks on Calgary's Syrian refugees

Agencies push back against Coulter's attacks on Calgary's Syrian refugees


Published on: March 22, 2017 | Last Updated: March 22, 2017 6:13 AM MDT


Comments from a notorious American political commentator that Syrian refugees are ballooning Calgary’s poverty rate were deflated by local social workers.

In response to a Postmedia story published Monday on a drive to collect clothing and halal food for the city’s needy Muslims, Ann Coulter on Tuesday tweeted “Keep it up Calgary and we may not be able to make you our 51st state,” possibly mistaking the city for a province or country.

She goes on to say “massive jump in poverty as “underprivileged” “refugees” pour in.”

It’s an assessment divorced from reality, said Karen Young, president of the Calgary United Way.

“In 2012, there was back then a poverty rate of 10 per cent, and it’s about 10 per cent now, or 120,000 people,” said Young.

The influx of about 3,000 Mideast, mostly Syrian, refugees began in late 2015.

In the Monday news story, the Muslim Families Network Society, which organized the drive, said the number of Muslims in the city doubled since the latest refugee crisis began.

Young said she’d rather not address any comments made by Coulter, but added “we really believe in the value of fairness, inclusion and diversity.”

The numbers of those refugees aren’t significant enough to considerably affect the city’s poverty rate, said Fariborz Birjandian, CEO of the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society which has overseen the refugee influx.

“They’re looking for an excuse to move an agenda,” he said of Coulter.

Most of the Mideast refugees are privately-sponsored and among those, 40% are now working a, figure he says “is quite good.”

Government-sponsored refugees tend to be less educated and about 10% of them have jobs, said Birjandian, who fled religious persecution in Iran 30 years ago.

“The reality is, it’s a struggle, but we should make sure they succeed,” he said.

He said one study shows that within 20 years, the rate of home ownership among one-time refugees is on par with those born in Canada while in Calgary, it’s 10% higher.

“On a settlement level, they’re doing quite well, they have kids in school learning, who’ll start working,” said Birjandian.

BKaufmann [AT] postmedia [DOT] com



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Fortney: 'The Girl in the Photo' speaks out for refugees, war's innocent victims

Fortney: 'The Girl in the Photo' speaks out for refugees, war's innocent victims


Published on: March 21, 2017 | Last Updated: March 21, 2017 7:54 AM MDT


For much of the past 25 years she’s called Canada home, Kim Phuc has become accustomed to being stopped by strangers on the street. “They recognize me everywhere,” she said with a shy laugh. “When they say, ‘your story touched my life,’ that’s OK.”

The 53-year-old mother of two is, understandably, a reluctant celebrity, but one at peace with her unique sort of fame and the opportunities it provides. “The picture is a powerful gift for me,” she said, “to work for peace.”

The picture she refers to is the antithesis of peace. On June 8, 1972, Associate Press news photographer Huynh Cong “Nick” Ut snapped a photograph of a then nine-year-old naked Phuc running from her village just after a napalm bomb attack, which evaporated her clothing and burned 30 per cent of her body.

Ut’s photograph won him a Pulitzer Prize and became an enduring symbol of the horrors of war, especially the suffering of innocents caught in its crossfire.  

On Monday, Phuc was in town as the keynote speaker for the closing event of the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society’s 35th anniversary celebrations. For Fariborz Birjandian, having Phuc as the organization’s invited guest has its own symbolism.

“The agency started 35 years ago because of the influx of Vietnamese refugees,” says Birjandian, the CEO of CCIS, which to date has sponsored more than 6,500 refugees arriving in Calgary.

Birjandian, who came to Canada as an Iranian refugee more than 35 years ago, said he has another deeply personal reason for being thrilled to host Phuc’s visit.

“Kim has been an inspiration to all of us,” he said. “She is one of my heroes.”


Indeed, Phuc’s incredible story of her life after Ut snapped that iconic photograph is ripe with inspiration.

“I kept crying out, ‘too hot, too hot,’” she says of the attack’s immediate aftermath. “Every time I look at that picture I can see how hopeless I was … I can smell the fire, the smoke around me.”

Thanks largely to the insistence of Ut, who transported her to hospital in his media van, doctors treated the badly burned child. A few short years later, the new communist regime halted her dreams of medical school when they began using her fame for propaganda purposes. Later, though, she was given permission to study in Cuba, where she met her husband, Bui Huy Toan.

They married in 1992, honeymooning in Moscow. On a refuelling stop in Gander, Newfoundland en route to Cuba, the newlyweds defected.

“We had nothing but we had freedom and we had each other,” says Phuc of her joy of being a penniless refugee in Canada. “So we had everything.”

Through her Kim Phuc Foundation International (, Phuc has continued her mission to help others with programs and services for child victims of war. She also travels extensively, speaking to audiences on such topics as forgiveness, life as a child of war and an adult refugee. At many of those talks she’s been joined by her photographer friend Ut, who is retiring from the Associated Press after a stellar 51-year career.

“When I became a mother, I held my child,” she said of her decision to use her fame to help others. “And I thought, ‘how could I let my child suffer like that girl.'” In fact, it’s when asked about the most recent iconic photograph of the children victims of war that Phuc’s stoic exterior crumbles.

“When I saw that picture, I just burst into crying,” she said of the 2015 photograph of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi’s body on a beach in Turkey. The photo reflected both the child victims of war and the plight of Syrian refugees. “My picture is similar, but I am still alive … I am a living miracle, I can give hope to the people.”  


For her Monday talk in Calgary, Phuc said she hoped to provide both practical tips for the many new Canadians in the audience — “learn English, learn the culture” — as well as inspirational lessons.

“Never give up, always reach out for help,” said the amazing woman who will mark 45 years this June since she became the human symbol of war’s horrors. “This is one of the greatest countries in the world to live.”

vfortney [AT] postmedia [DOT] com




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Kim Phuc, the 'Napalm Girl' from the Pulitzer Prize-winning photo, comes to Calgary to speak on refugees, immigrants

Kim Phuc, the 'Napalm Girl' from the Pulitzer Prize-winning photo, comes to Calgary to speak on refugees, immigrants



She was known as the “Napalm Girl,” a nine-year-old victim of a deadly chemical attack whose image shocked the world — and has served as an enduring symbol of the innocents caught in the crossfire of war.

On June 8, Kim Phuc will mark 45 years since she was photographed running from a Vietnamese village with other children, she the only child in the frame naked after a napalm bomb evaporated her cotton clothing and caused third-degree burns to 30 per cent of her body.

“Every time I look at that picture I can see how hopeless I was … I can smell the fire, the smoke around me,” Phuc told Calgary media on Monday.

Describing herself as a “living miracle,” Phuc survived that attack, but not without several surgeries and skin grafts, not to mention psychological trauma.

Phuc, a happily married mother of two who has lived in the Toronto area for the past three decades, has taken her worldwide fame and used it to help others. In the late 1990s, she founded the charitable organization Kim Phuc Foundation International, which helps child victims of war around the world.

On Monday, she was in Calgary as the featured speaker of the final event of the 35th anniversary celebrations for the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society.

Fariborz Birjandian, CEO of the CCIS, said that having Phuc as the organization’s special guest is a great honour. “She is one of my heroes,” he said, adding that it’s also significant that his organization was formed 35 years ago as a response to an influx into the city of Vietnamese refugees. “Kim has been an inspiration to all of us."

Kim Phuc, the woman who was the naked girl covered in napalm seen running in Nick Ut's famous photo from 1972, is embraced by Fariborz Birjandian, CEO of the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society, at the Margaret Chisholm Resettlement Centre in Calgary, Alta., on Monday, March 20, 2017. Phuc is the keynote speaker in the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society's 35th anniversary event. Lyle Aspinall/Postmedia Network

Phuc’s story is inspiring and incredible, of how a traumatized, injured child in a Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph not only survived, but thrived.

That AP photographer, Huynh Cong “Nick” Ut, rushed Phuc to the hospital and insisted doctors treat her, a life saving gesture that would form the start of a lifelong friendship between Phuc and her photographer, who is retiring from the AP this month after a stellar 51-year career.

In 1992, Phuc and her husband defected to Canada after their Moscow to Havana flight stopped in Gander, Newfoundland for refuelling. “We had nothing but we had freedom and we had each other,” said Phuc, who had permission from the Vietnamese government to study in Cuba, where she met her husband. “So we had everything.”

At Monday’s CCIS celebration, Phuc was mindful of the many refugees and other new Canadians in the audience. “I want to share my experiences about when I just arrived in Canada, with nothing but faith,” she said. “I can give hope to people.”



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Woman in famous Vietnam War photo visits Calgary as ambassador of peace

Woman in famous Vietnam War photo visits Calgary as ambassador of peace


Cynthia Roebuck

Cynthia RoebuckAnchor/Reporter


Published Monday, March 20, 2017 4:30PM MDT 
Last Updated Monday, March 20, 2017 7:19PM MDT

Kim Phuc Phan Thi is in Calgary for the 35th anniversary of the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society.

She is famous for a photo taken decades ago, but every time she sees it, it brings that day in 1972 back like it was yesterday.

“Every time I look at my picture I can see how hopeless I was, how terrified that little girl, and its painful agony, and I can smell the fire and smoke around me,” she said.

Phan Thi was in a group of children who were hit with napalm, a fluid that was used during the war which would inflict terrible burns. Her recovery took a long time, and she ended up coming to Canada to start a new life. She remembers the fear she felt during that experience too.

“I was one of them, 25 years ago, I came to Canada, I had nothing and traumatized and everything and I really needed help,” she said.

Fariborz Birjandian of the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society understands that feeling. He was a refugee at one time, and is now a proud Canadian citizen. He said the society decided to bring Phan Thi to Calgary to speak at the 35th anniversary event because of how the society got started.

“The agency started actually in the mid-70s because of an influx of Vietnamese refugees, a handful of volunteers got together and they felt they had to do something to help the people that were coming to Calgary, there were not many services available at that time, it was just a new phenomenon for Calgary,” he said.

The society has grown to 300 staff and 1,700 volunteers since then, and has helped resettle 3,200 people in the last 16 years. Birjandian said the work they do is central to what it means to be Canadian.

“We are a large country, we are a rich country, we are a blessed country and I think we have to do our part to make this world better,” he said.

Phan Thi said she is proud to talk about her experience so that she can help raise awareness of the need to help refugees.

“Now I am so happy that during the time growing up and learning about life, I am so happy that I can work with that picture for good, for peace,” she said. “We never quit, we never give up, we keep going to work, even if it’s not easy.”

The anniversary event goes Monday, March 20th at Telus Convention Centre. You can learn more about the work done by the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society here.



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