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As Ottawa boosts Gaza temporary visas, more questions on struggles to flee

Click to play video: 'Gazans escaping to Canada facing ‘unfair’ visa roadblocks, Palestinian-Canadian families say'
Gazans escaping to Canada facing ‘unfair’ visa roadblocks, Palestinian-Canadian families say
WATCH: Palestinian-Canadian families desperate to get loved ones out of Gaza are accusing the Canadian federal government of putting unnecessary and "unfair" roadblocks in their way. The government has said it will grant up to 5,000 temporary visas to residents of Gaza. Only a fraction of those visas have actually been green-lit. And then, only after people find a way to get out of Gaza and into Egypt. As Heather Yourex-West reports, families with loved ones in harm's way say the delays are fully preventable and within the government's control. – Jun 7, 2024

After the federal government announced it is increasing the number of temporary visas for those fleeing Gaza with a Canadian connection, advocates say there remain serious questions about how that increase will be met if people are still struggling to get out.

Immigration and refugee lawyer Debbie Rachlis is working with dozens of families to bring Gazans to Canada. She says the program has been “a disaster from start to finish.”

“We were told that the government was sending more resources to the visa office in Cairo to help processing,” Rachlis said. “I haven’t seen anything speeding up on my end. I still have people sitting and waiting for several months now.”

The program, first announced in January, is meant to bring Canadians’ family members living in Gaza amid Israeli airstrikes to safety in Canada. Monday’s program change increases the number of temporary visas available from 1,000 to 5,000.

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Click to play video: 'Canada still struggling with Gaza visa program delays'
Canada still struggling with Gaza visa program delays

The program has faced criticism – Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister Marc Miller even previously called it a “failure” – and Monday’s increased cap has not silenced those concerns.

Israa Alsaafin, a Palestinian Canadian, applied to the program back when it started in January to reunite with nine of her family members.

“Still waiting,” she said. “Processing time is unknown.”

Alsaafin’s brother died in Gaza in October 2023. The safety situation there prompted her to take alternatives to get her family to Egypt, putting her in debt.

“I paid $70,000 as a bribe to get them out and I was lucky, I consider myself lucky to have that chance,” Alsaafin said.

For those still stuck in Gaza, Miller said the increased cap won’t expedite arrivals.

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Click to play video: '‘Canada is horrified’: Freeland on Israel’s attack at Rafah camp'
‘Canada is horrified’: Freeland on Israel’s attack at Rafah camp

“Canada does not control the situation on the ground, the exits from Rafah being a particular example of that, but we do our utmost given the circumstances,” Miller told a committee Monday.

Miller added that more than 5,000 people have started the application process, but only 41 have actually entered Canada through the program.

Amira Elghawaby, Canada’s special representative on combatting Islamophobia, said Palestinian Canadians feel “let down” by the federal government.

“They have really not felt that they are being treated in the same equitable manner that they should expect as any Canadians,” Elghawaby said.

— with files from Global’s Mackenzie Gray

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