Canadians who have extended family members in the Gaza Strip will soon be able to apply for temporary visas for them to come to Canada, but the government isn’t committing to providing safe passage out of the conflict zone.
Immigration Minister Marc Miller announced the new temporary immigration program, which will be for those living in the Gaza Strip who have Canadian relatives.
“We will do our utmost to assist but cannot guarantee safe passage,” said Miller at a press conference.
Miller said he expects to have a temporary visa program up and running by Jan. 9, calling the current state of Gaza “unlivable.”
Miller told reporters that he’s received no guarantee from Israel, Hamas or Egypt as to who will be allowed to leave on any given day.
The Rafah border crossing is under the strict control of Israel and Egypt as part of negotiations mediated by Qatar. While Canada has provided them with a list of names to consider, they have not returned any guarantees as to who will be allowed out.
As of Dec. 15, about 170 Canadians remain trapped in Gaza, according to a spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada.
Those with loved ones still in Gaza are saying the wait until Jan. 9 is an unsettling one.
“Every second that passes, it’s a long time for us,” said Israa Alsaafin, a Palestinian Canadian who lost her brother on Oct. 13, after he fled his home with his wife and baby.
Alsaafin said her nephew is now her responsibility.
“Nobody deserves to live these emotions and feelings,” said Alsaafin while speaking at a press conference put on by the National Council for Canadian Muslims.
Canada has been focusing its efforts on getting the roughly 660 Canadians, permanent residents, their spouses and children out of Gaza but will soon extend that effort to include applications for people with extended family who want to escape.
This would include parents, grandparents, siblings and grandchildren.
Additionally, the spouses and children of those extended family members will be eligible as well.
Miller said that people will be required to present documents in order to leave Gaza and will have to undergo further screening and fingerprinting in Cairo, Egypt.
The Canadian immigration department has advised families who wish to have loved ones apply begin gathering all necessary documents, like proof of their family relationship, as soon as possible.
The Canadian government will offer three-year visas for those who meet the admissibility criteria.
While the exact number of people who will be eligible for the program has not yet been determined, Miller expects it to be in the hundreds, according to CP24.
“Israelis and Palestinians already in Canada who feel unsafe returning home at this time will also be eligible for the fee-exempt study or open work permits,” said Miller.