‘Jewish Schindler’ Spearheading Mission to Help Yazidis Stranded in Greece After Escaping ISIS Persecution (EXCLUSIVE)
A Canadian Jewish businessman is leading efforts to help Yazidis who managed to escape ISIS persecution in Iraq, only to find themselves stranded in Greece, The Algemeiner has learned.
Steve Maman founded the Liberation of Christian and Yazidi Children of Iraq (CYCI) a year ago to rescue Christian and Yazidi girls kidnapped by ISIS terrorists and sold as sex slaves in northern Iraq. The Canada-based charity says it works closely with a team of negotiators, based inside ISIS-occupied areas, to rescue the kidnapped girls and reunite them with their families.
In an interview with The Algemeiner on Friday, Maman said CYCI has expanded its efforts now to help Yazidis who have successfully escaped ISIS strongholds in Iraq and made it to Greece — but lack the necessary help to reach their final destination in Germany, which he said hosts the second largest Yazidi community in the world.
The Montreal native explained that Yazidis reach the Greek island of Lesbos, in the northern Aegean Sea off the coast of Turkey, by boat and are sometimes stranded there for several months before they can make their way to Germany. CYCI locates the Yazidis on the island, provides them with food, clothing and money and helps them fill out the paperwork necessary for them to continue on to Germany.
CYCI started its mission in Greece a month ago, with the goal of helping 613 Yazidis reach Germany, because, Maman said, “I never thought we would be able to surpass that number with the funds that we have.” Nevertheless, as of Sunday, Maman said the charity has assisted 1,055 Yazidis, and that the new goal is 1,200 — to “match the Oscar Schindler number,” referring to the number of Jews the German industrialist is credited with having saved during the Holocaust.
A video posted on CYCI’s Facebook page shows 102 Yazidis entering the port area of Lesbos to board a ship that will take them to Athens. From Greece’s capital they take buses and trains to Germany.
CYCI faced criticism in August from Yazidi leaders who questioned Maman’s methods and demanded that he provide evidence that he is actually rescuing Yazidis and Christians from ISIS terrorists. Maman responded by accusing his critics of trying to “push out” the CYCI for their own purposes. Maman, who recently visited Lesbos and plans to travel back this week, told The Algemeiner that though there are NGOs taking care of the Syrian refugees on the island, before CYCI came, no one was helping the Yazidis.
“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 us all the way to Germany. We have numerous groups that already got to Germany that we stay in touch with.”
Maman compared the plight of the Yazidis and their predicament in Lesbos to that of Jews escaping Nazi concentration camps. He said, “[The Yazidis] are not in life-threatening danger, but they are basically lost. It’s very similar to Jews who were able to escape Nazi camps only to die in the forest of hunger, of cold along the way out of Germany or out of those camps…If I tell you about the amount of phone calls and messages we deal with every day from people who are stuck in the middle of the way, it’s surreal.”
As part of its efforts, CYCI helped save a 14-year-old Yazidi girl who was jailed in Lesbos for being an unaccompanied minor. Authorities would only release her to family members, but her parents were in Kurdistan and were too elderly to travel and bail her out. CYCI found out that the girl had a brother living in Germany and sent him a plane ticket to travel to Greece and retrieve his sister. Two CYCI members met him in Athens, flew with him to the Greek port city of Thessaloniki and then drove him to the police station — a seven-hour drive away — where he presented documents proving he was the girl’s brother, and was able to get her released from jail.
“There is no limit to where we’re gonna go or what we’re gonna do to help people stranded or in trouble along the way,” Maman told The Algemeiner. “We’ve already shown it.”