Steve Maman. Photo: Radio Canada
TORONTO, Canada – To Steve Maman, a Canadian Jewish businessman who has made a mission of rescuing Christian and Yezidi-Kurdish children held captive by the Islamic State group (ISIS), what matters most is saving lives.
His Liberation of Christian and Yazidi Children of Iraq (CYCI) project has so far freed 128 children, who were captured and sold into slavery and sexual abuse by ISIS, after it captured large swathes of Iraq more than a year ago.
Maman says he pays ransom to buy lives, brushing aside concern that the money is going to help a terrorist organization. “I'm focused on saving lives,” the Montreal-based businessman said in an interview with Canada’s CBC radio last week.
“I'm not focused on the actual logistics of the payments and all the rest,” he said, explaining that the sums paid were too small to matter to ISIS, which he estimated is worth $4 billion.
”Do you think that my little meager two or three thousand dollars per child is going in any way or form help the power and might that ISIS may attain?” Maman asked.
“At the end of the day we are working with brokers and maybe or maybe not these funds may find their way through the $4 billion entity to make them 4 billion two thousand. Who cares?”
Maman’s project works with a trusted team on the ground to buy back the freedom of women and children.
“We raise the funds...we have the team on the ground which is a trusted team...these people receive the funds that we send to them...they actually have made great connections throughout the last 15 years in the areas of Iraq,” he said.
He added that contacts in Mosul are helping his teams.
For his work, this Canadian businessman is being hailed as a “Jewish Schindler,” after the German industrialist Oskar Schindler, who saved the lives of 1,200 Jews from the Holocaust by employing them in his factories during the Second World War.
Maman reiterated that what matters is saving lives: like him, Schindler also saved many Jews illegally by paying money, in his case to the Nazi Party.
Maman said he began the rescue mission because he saw no action by anyone to free the Christians and Yezidis, months after they were seized and were suffering under ISIS.
“When it's women, younger women, it's always a question of rape...repeated rapes,” he said, explaining the kind of abuse endured by women and girls in ISIS hands.
“It's a question of being resold numerous times, we hear about beatings, we hear about women being underfed, we hear about women actually being kept in cages, we hear about women that were actually threatened with being burnt if they wouldn't do certain sexual acts,” he said.
Maman said his Jewish background was what made him step in to save lives.
“What motivated me is very simple...being Jewish, being part of a people that actually survived the Holocaust...we for six years waited for people to actually answer the call and come and help us,” he said.
After a lightning advance in Iraq in June 2014, ISIS captured many Christian villages outside Mosul and the Kurdish-Yezidi town of Shingal in northern Iraq.
The Yezidis, regarded by the militants as heretics for their religious beliefs, have suffered the harshest, their girls and women sold as chattel for sex slavery in the thousands.