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More than 7,500 visa requests for relatives of Canadians caught in Gaza

Photo: Mohammed Abed Agence France-Presse Family members established in Canada must cross the Egyptian border from Rafah to Cairo for a final security check before being issued a visa, a particularly difficult step. Pictured are Palestinian children moving water supplies in a refugee camp in Rafah. The Egyptian border can be seen behind them.

Sarah Smellie – The Canadian Press in Saint John, Newfoundland-Labrador

Published and updated on May 8

  • Canada

More than 7,500 Canadians have registered for a federal visa process to get their families out of the Gaza Strip, which lawyers have described as expensive, chaotic and almost impossible to follow.

The figures obtained by The Canadian Pressthrough a freedom of information request, which cover the first three months of the year, are “shocking,” said Toronto immigration lawyer Debbie Rachlis.

According to her, these figures demonstrate that thousands more Canadians are rushing to save their family members who are victims of the war between Israel and Hamas, compared to what Ottawa had initially estimated during the program launches in January.

Mr. Rachlis, who represents dozens of applicants in this multi-step process, said some applications involve seven or eight members of a same family, which means the number of people wanting to enter Canada is even higher.

“To me, this is just another indication of the reluctance of this government to respond to the plight of these people,” she declared.

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Figures show that 7,549 initial visa applications were submitted by Canadians for loved ones stuck in the Gaza Strip since the program's launch on January 9 through April 1.

When the federal Minister of Immigration, Marc Miller, announced this family reunification project in December, he estimated during a press conference that he expected that the number of people who could benefit from it numbered “in the hundreds”.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship stated that as of April 29, only 179 visas had been issued by Ottawa to Gazans.

The asylum application process involves several stages, starting with a solemn declaration from a Canadian member of the family and an online form containing details of the applicants' situation. Then, some applicants receive a unique code that allows them to move on to the second stage.

Family members must cross the Egyptian border from Rafah to Cairo for a final check security before a visa is issued to them, a step which has proven particularly difficult. The Canadian Pressspoke to several Palestinians who, frustrated by Ottawa's inability to help them, paid thousands of dollars to a private Egyptian company to get them across the border.

Israel's takeover of the border on Tuesday will likely make crossing even more difficult. “That means we won't be able to get people out, and that concerns me greatly,” Minister Miller said Tuesday.

Data obtained last week shows that 2755 unique codes had been sent by April 1 to those who had filed a statutory declaration. Of those who obtained codes, the ministry received 1,977 applications for the second stage of the process.

The federal Department of Immigration initially said it would only review 1,000 applications for the program, but Minister Miller has since said that number will be increased.

< p>The ministry said last week that 986 “complete” applications were being processed. Previous emails from the department show that this number has not changed since at least March 4.

Could Canada do some more ?

Rachlis said Canada's apparent hesitation to act urgently could be attributed in part to not wanting to contribute to the depopulation of Gaza. And while she called Canada's visa program a failure, she added that no other country has launched a solid initiative that Canada can learn from. There is also no international system in place protecting war victims that Canada could really work with, she believes.

Annie O'Dell, a immigration lawyer originally from the St. John's region of Newfoundland and Labrador and based in Toronto, believes Canada could do more to eliminate some of the excessive security requirements associated with these visas – and thus issue them more quickly.

She argues that the Canadian government could stop requiring applicants to go to Cairo for final verification, because people who are trying to cross the border into Egypt, at Rafah, could do so more easily if they had a Canadian visa in hand.

Ms. O’Dell represents Sawsan Karashuli, a Palestinian Canadian living in Ontario, who applied for a visa for her brother and niece in January. The brother has since died of starvation in the north of the Gaza Strip, and his 25-year-old daughter has been left there alone, the lawyer said. Neither received a visa.

“I wonder how many of these applications were sent for people who are now deceased, lamented Me O'Dell in an interview. I would say that the Canadian government bears some responsibility for the delays towards people who are no longer in this world. »

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116