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Calgary family welcomes refugees from Gaza at considerable expense

Ossama Zaqqout and his family welcome his parents, the first of 36 extended family members he and his wife are hoping to help resettle in Canada.

There was immense relief and joy at Calgary International Airport Saturday afternoon as Ossama Zaqqout, his wife, and kids finally welcomed his parents to Canada.

But the journey to bring his family to safety is far from over.

This is just the first of 36 members of the Zaqqout’s extended family that they are diligently trying to help escape their war-torn homeland.

Sixteen of them have made it as far as Egypt. Another 18 remain in Gaza, escaping continuous assaults by Israel. Eleven members of Zaqqout’s wife’s family have been killed.

“It’s a very tough seven months for us,” said Zaqqout. “To wake up every day to hear a cousin has been killed a family member has been injured… It’s become like a daily routine for us and that’s not healthy.”

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In January, the Canadian government announced a special program to allow extended family members of Canadian citizens with a temporary safe haven and other supports in Canada.

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But exiting Gaza remains challenging. The family says exit costs are about $5,000 US per person.

The family has raised over $125,000 towards a goal of $400,000 to help their family members with exit fees, transportation and resettling costs. But Zaqqout said that money has already been spent, leaving the rest of his family in limbo as he tries to rally support.

“It’s a mixed feeling,” Zaqqout described. “I’m overwhelmed with happiness to see my father but, at the same time, I’m overwhelmed with sorrow as well that there are still people in Gaza that I can’t help come here, yet. I’m trying as much as I can.”

Zaqqout said he is hoping that the Canadian government will consider providing additional support to help his family settle in Canada.

Matthew Krupovich, a spokesperson for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), said in a statement to Global News that the IRCC “remains deeply concerned about the situation in Gaza and empathizes with those affected.”

“We have received a large volume of web form submissions. We are currently reviewing them for completeness. As of April 22, 2024, we have 986 applications accepted into processing,” said Krupovich.

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The IRCC said it has put forward names of people who passed preliminary eligibility and admissibility reviews to local authorities for approval, “however, Canada does not control who or when someone can exit Gaza.”

As of April 22, 2024, 153 applicants had exited Gaza without facilitation from Government of Canada.

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