Palestinian Canadians say their families are dying in Gaza while waiting to come to Canada
Maher Al-Anqar sat and watched his nephew suffer. The video – shot by a freelance reporter for CBC News – captured every scream and every spasm as 10-year-old Adam Abu Ajwa pleaded for help after the house he was sheltering in with his parents and siblings in Khan Yunis, Gaza, was bombed. Hand grenade on January 17.
Adam suffered third-degree burns. His older sister, Zeina, 26, survived with burns and broken bones after being stuck under the rubble for hours. They were the only ones in the house who survived. Their mother, Hanaa, and their older brother, Amr, died and were buried in the courtyard of Nasser Hospital, one of the main hospitals in the central Gaza Strip.
Al-Anqar’s mouth was trembling with every scream as he watched the doctors work on the boy’s wounds without anesthesia. He told CBC News on February 4 that he had applied to have his sister and her children removed from Gaza under the Special Immigration Procedures for Extended Family Members of Palestinian Canadians program.
They were waiting for news when their house was bombed.
“It’s hard… it’s hard to watch this,” Al-Anqar said.
“We are sitting here… in a safe place in Canada. I have my children with me but my sisters, my niece and my nephew are not safe. We don’t know what to do or how to help them.” And how to get them out of there.”
The federal government launched the special program last month after Canadians pleaded with Palestinians for months to help get their loved ones out of Gaza.
The program offers visas to a maximum of 1,000 Gazans, allowing them to seek refuge in Canada for three years if their families are willing to support them financially during that period. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister Mark Miller said the 1,000 application limit was not a fixed cap and could be extended.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada says nearly 1,000 applications under the program have reached the second stage and are awaiting final admission decisions.
About 1,200 people were killed in Israel on October 7 during Hamas-led attacks, including several Canadians. Israeli officials said that 253 others were taken hostage, and about 130 of them have not yet returned to their homes. Palestinian officials say more than 27,000 people were killed in the Israeli military response to Hamas-led attacks.
A spokesperson for Miller confirmed to CBC News that no one registered with Canada has been able to flee Gaza under the new program. That’s left many Palestinian Canadians anxiously awaiting word that their loved ones have been allowed to leave — or that they’ve joined the growing list of casualties in the war between Israel and Hamas.
Al-Anqar said he applied on behalf of his sister and her children on January 9, when the program opened. Hanaa and Amr died just eight days after submitting their application to Citizenship and Immigration Canada.
He said he now hopes he can get his niece and nephew out of the war zone before it’s too late, but he has yet to hear back from the federal government on the status of the requests.
“You’re trying to help, but the whole process or system isn’t helping you, whether it’s here or there,” he said. “No one has done anything yet.”
Tamer Jarada from Calgary said he has lost 16 family members since the war began. He said he applied to bring his remaining family from Gaza to Canada on January 9, including his pregnant sister due to give birth on February 5.
Jarada reached the second stage of the application process, which allowed him to apply for a temporary residence visa for his sister. But he said he has not heard from Immigration Canada about next steps for weeks.
“Every time I call her, she cries. She begs me to help her,” he said. He added: “I am doing my best to help her, but my government is not listening, and is not doing what it is supposed to do.”
In an interview with CBC’s Rosemary Barton that aired Sunday, Foreign Minister Melanie Jolie said she and Miller are working hard on the issue.
“We have made a commitment to these families. I know that these families are also eagerly waiting to leave,” she added. He added, “For this reason, we will continue to put pressure on the Israeli authorities as well as the Egyptian government, from which we also need permission.”
Jolie said that getting people out of Gaza is a top priority for the government.
“You have my personal commitment, and Canadians have my personal commitment, that this is a very important priority,” she said.
In a January 9 interview with CBC host David Cochrane Power and politicsMiller said the government cannot offer “guarantees” to people who ask for its help to escape Gaza. He pointed to the continuing problems in accessing the Rafah Gate crossing between Gaza and Egypt.
“These are elements that are not under the control of the Canadian authorities,” he said. He added: “In addition to these two actors (Israel and Egypt), Hamas, a terrorist organization that has committed unspeakable atrocities, has its say and sometimes plays games at the same border crossing.”
Miller also noted the problems faced by Canadian authorities when evacuating Canadians from the enclave in November 2023, citing the way the border crossing would be closed on very short notice.
“So there is no guarantee that people will be able to get out, but the effort is worth it,” he added. “We think this is the humane thing to do for Canadians who have relationships with people who are simply trying to survive.”
Returning to the Nasser Hospital complex in Khan Yunis, Zeina Abu Ajwa spends her days sitting next to her brother’s bed, relieving him of his suffering every time his bandages are changed.
“He has third-degree burns on his legs, so changing every day is very important. But it causes a lot of pain,” she said.
She said that on the day of the attack, it took hours for someone to come to their aid.
She said: “We lived for nearly 10 hours of terror and pain. I remained under the rubble for eight hours.” “My brother was outside bleeding out in the open.”
Ankara said he wanted to see more from the federal government than just expressions of sympathy.
He added: “Saving lives must be the highest priority for any government or any official.” “My mother was devastated that she could not say the last word goodbye to her daughter…
“Parents, they expect their children to bury them, not the other way around.”