The federal government has officially launched its special immigration measures program for extended family members of Palestinian Canadians trying to escape the war in Gaza, allowing 1,000 of them to move to Canada temporarily. Refugee advocates have criticized some of the program requirements.
Federal government has capped the program at a maximum of 1,000 visas
Raffy Boudjikanian · CBC News
· Posted: Jan 09, 2024 5:06 PM EST | Last Updated: 7 hours ago
Palestinian children and youth wait to collect drinking water Tuesday in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip as the conflict between Israel and Hamas continues. (Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters)The federal government has officially launched its special immigration measures program for extended family members of Palestinian Canadians trying to escape the war in Gaza, allowing 1,000 of them to move here on a temporary basis.
The program’s website went live Tuesday afternoon. It says applicants are required to have up-to-date passports and results of DNA tests, and must show they will be supported by a Canadian citizen or permanent resident for a year.
Successful applicants will receive temporary visas good for three years.
The government has capped the number of successful applicants at 1,000, citing the volatile situation on the ground in Gaza and the obstacles it has faced in getting people out.
In an interview with CBC’s Power and Politics on Tuesday, Immigration Minister Marc Miller said the government would show some flexibility.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister Marc Miller speaks to the media on Parliament Hill in Ottawa early last month. In an interview Tuesday, Miller admitted the temporary residency program for Palestinians trying to leave Gaza may be difficult to implement. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)”It would be pointless to shut things down once a thousand applications come in of varying quality,” he said.
“We want to get a sense of what that volume is and we will be flexible. You know, we don’t have a sense of what the numbers are that we’re dealing with. We’re speculating.”
The National Council of Canadian Muslims, which had been advocating for such a program, has said it is in contact with the families of more than 1,000 potential applicants.
A similar program for Ukrainians fleeing the country after Russia invaded in 2022 had a much larger cap of 200,000 applicants.
Miller has pointed out that the Canadian government doesn’t decide who gets to leave Gaza. In announcing the program last month, he cited the authority exercised by Egypt and Israel over the Rafah Gate crossing between the two countries.
Miller said Canada has yet to secure assurances from the two countries that those Canada selects for this program will be able to cross the border.
“In addition to those two actors, Hamas, a terrorist organization that has committed untold atrocities, has their word to say and has sometimes played games at that same border crossing,” he said. “So the concern is extreme and the undertakings are often ones that are tenuous at best.”
Program requirements criticizedRefugee advocates have criticized some of the program’s requirements.
The process starts with Palestinian Canadians providing a sworn statement attesting they can support their relatives financially for up to a year after their arrival, and help them access social services and schooling.
That statement has to be notarized — a requirement not previously publicized by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC).
“We have a snowstorm right now in Toronto and folks are racing to get these forms notarized. It’s [an] added expense,” said immigration lawyer Hana Marku.
Hana Marku, an Albanian-Canadian immigration lawyer, says the 1,000-person cap on Palestinians coming to Canada from Gaza as part of a temporary residency program must be removed. (Courtesy Hana Marku)Marku said the previous program did not require Ukrainian applicants to have an “anchor” relative in Canada to guarantee financial support.
She said the Palestinian-Canadian community has mobilized to welcome far more than 1,000 applicants — a number she said represents a fraction of the demand, given the census estimates the number of Palestinian Canadians at close to 45,000.
“If I was [Palestinian], I would find this 1,000 person cap to be slap in the face, considering that we’re talking about a population that’s on the brink of starvation, living in tents, being bombed from the sky every day,” Marku said. “If I was a Palestinian-Canadian, how should I interpret that 1,000 number?”
Once a Canadian relative fills out the form, they receive a unique identifier code which they must then submit along with copies of valid travel documents belonging to their loved ones in Gaza.
That triggers the second part of the application process, which one Palestinian-Canadian told CBC News presents its own set of challenges.
Winnipeg immigration lawyer Louay Alghoul says he’s lost 68 members of his extended family to the war in Gaza so far. (CBC)Forms ask for applicants’ social mediaLouay Alghoul, himself an immigration lawyer trying to bring over some of his extended family from Gaza, showed CBC a copy of the form they are each required to fill out.
It asks for detailed employment history from the age of 16 onwards, including names of any supervisors and reasons for any dismissals, as well as medical history including scars or injuries and how they were treated. The form also asks for lists of all social media accounts the applicant may have.
LISTEN | Lawyer Louay Alghoul describes the struggle to bring Gazans to Canada:
As It Happens7:03Winnipeg lawyer scrambles to get Gazans to Canada — including his own family
Immigration lawyer Louay Alghoul has been working non-stop to get Gazans — including several members of his own family — registered for Canada’s new emergency visa program. The temporary program aims to help 1,000 Gazans who have relatives in Canada. But Alghoul told host Nil Köksal that just one day into the program’s launch, he’s already encountering an “absolutely ridiculous” amount of bureaucratic red tape.
Alghoul says some of these requirements have left him scratching his head.
“Is the government going to go through your social media and see if you’ve posted anything in there against a certain country or group or what?” he asked. “What’s the point behind this? It seems more penalizing than actually assisting.”
Alghoul says he’s lost 68 members of his extended family to the war in Gaza so far.
CBC News has reached out to the Immigration Department about why this amount of background information is being required but did not receive a response in time for publication.
The program is open to extended family members of Canadians and permanent residents — including spouses, common-law partners, children, grandchildren, siblings, parents and grandparents.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Raffy Boudjikanian is a senior reporter with the CBC’s Parliamentary Bureau in Ottawa. He has also worked in Edmonton, Calgary and Montreal for the public broadcaster.
with files from Power and Politics