Ontario woman says her brother starved to death in Gaza while waiting for Canadian visa news

De San Juan –

A 62-year-old Ontario woman says her brother died in northern Gaza after spending weeks searching for food and shelter while waiting for word from the federal government about whether he could come to Canada.

Sawsan Karashuli discovered through a Facebook post that her brother, Ismail Qarsholi, had died on March 4, about two months after she applied to participate in a newly opened program to obtain Canadian visas for him and his 25-year-old daughter. . Her daughter, Lina Qarsholi, is now alone in northern Gaza, Karashuli said, trying to stay alive at the epicenter of what international officials have described as a humanitarian catastrophe.

Karashuli says her only wish is for Ottawa to help her niece escape to live with her in Canada, the country Karashuli has called home for more than two decades.

Her son Marcus joined her in a recent interview. “Mom had started tidying up the room and putting everything together,” said Marcus Karashuli, 36, his voice breaking. “She had clothes because they would come with nothing. We really believe in Canadian values, but we are surprised that they can’t do anything… it’s just a lot of time, wasted effort, a lot of work.” false hope.”

The Canadian government launched a program in January to offer temporary visas to up to 1,000 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip who have family in Canada, on the condition that their families support them when they arrive.

Sawsan Karashuli submitted his application for his family members on the day of the program’s launch. She said the application was confusing and expensive, and that she ultimately received no response from the federal government about whether her family members had been accepted or could safely arrive in Egypt for final processing.

As of March 11, 986 applications had been accepted for processing under the program, but only 14 people had managed to cross from Gaza into Egypt for the required final checks and had been authorized to come to Canada, the federal Immigration Department said in a statement. a statement.

By comparison, Australian authorities said they issued almost 2,300 visas to Palestinians between the start of the war on October 7, 2023 and February 6. As of March 7, Ireland had issued 90 visas since October 7, according to an email from Irish immigration officials.

Marcus Karashuli was silent when told that only 14 people had managed to obtain temporary Canadian visas. “That’s just heartbreaking,” he finally said.

Immigration Minister Marc Miller has expressed frustration at Canada’s impotence in facilitating the crossing of approved family members into Egypt. He said Monday in Ottawa that Canada is pleading with Egypt and Israel to let those people out so they can complete their security check in Cairo and receive a visa.

Canada is prepared to receive more than 1,000 applicants, he added, but did not specify how many.

Ismail Qarsholi was enjoying retirement from a long career as an education director when Hamas militants attacked southern Israel, killing about 1,200 people and taking about 240 hostages. Israel responded quickly with airstrikes and a ground assault, killing more than 30,000 people, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry.

The war has driven 80 percent of Gaza’s population, 2.3 million Palestinians, including the Qarsholis, from their homes. Famine is “imminent” in northern Gaza, where 70 percent of people suffer from catastrophic hunger, a United Nations-backed report said Monday.

“Lina Qarsholi was studying law when the war started,” said Marcus Karashuli.

She and her father had nothing to do with Hamas or the attacks, Karashuli said, adding that Israel’s offensive “feels like collective punishment.”

Qarsholi was 67 years old when he died. There were no functioning hospitals left in northern Gaza, so there was no doctor who could declare him dead or determine how he died.

Blackouts and damage to infrastructure made it difficult for the Karashulis to keep in touch with their relatives in Gaza, but Sawsan Karashuli said photographs sent to him over poor Internet connections showed that his kind, loved and respected brother had turned into a fragile and hungry man. whose skin stuck to the hollows of his skull.

Marcus Karashuli said Lina often talked about how hungry she and her father were. “They were looking for remains,” she said, adding that it was impossible for her to understand the agonizing way her uncle died.

He and his mother now hope that Lina Qarsholi will be allowed to come to Canada on humanitarian grounds, as she alone does not qualify for the Canadian visa program.

They filed the most recent paperwork last week, said Annie O’Dell, their attorney. “It’s such a discretionary process that they could easily say no,” O’Dell said from her workplace outside St. John’s, NL.

Sawsan Karashuli, however, does not lose hope and plans to keep his niece’s room ready.

“I hope I can bring her here, please,” Karashuli said, crying. “I lost my brother and she’s all we have now.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 20, 2024.

— With files from The Associated Press.

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