Israel and Hamas at war | More than 7,500 visa applications for relatives of Canadians in Gaza

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

The figures obtained by The Canadian Press through 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 victims of the war between Israel and Hamas, compared to what Ottawa had initially estimated when launching the program in January.

Me Rachlis, who represents dozens of applicants in the multi-step process, said some applications involve seven or eight members of one family, meaning 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 address the plight of these people,” she said.

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

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 numbers “in the hundreds”.

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

The asylum application process involves several steps, starting with a statutory declaration from a Canadian family member and an online form containing details of the applicants’ circumstances. Then, certain candidates receive a unique code which allows them to move on to the second stage.

Family members must cross the Egyptian border from Rafah to Cairo for a final security check before they are issued a visa, a step that has proven particularly difficult. The Canadian Press spoke 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 were sent to 1er April to those who had filed a solemn declaration. Of those who obtained codes, the ministry received 1,977 applications for the second stage of the process.

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

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

Could Canada do more?

Me 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 had launched a solid initiative that Canada could learn from and that there was no international system in place protecting war victims that Canada could actually work with.

Annie O’Dell, an 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 requirements excessive security requirements linked to 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 trying to cross the border into Egypt, at Rafah, could do so more easily if they had on hand a Canadian visa.

Mr. 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 Mr. 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. »


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