Why is nobody talking about Canada accepting refugees from Gaza?
The situation in Gaza is absolutely dire. So why are there no Palestinian refugees streaming out of the tiny territory – and why isn’t Canada ready to accept them to escape the nightmare?
A group of Palestinians living in southern Ontario is appealing to the federal government to bring family members living in Gaza to Canada faster than standard immigration policies allow.
Milton local and permanent resident Abdallah Alhamadni says they’re hoping Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) will create a humanitarian pathway for Palestinians fleeing from the Israel-Hamas war, similar to those implemented for people escaping violence in places like Syria and Ukraine.
“I have a great hope, it’s not impossible to do that,” said Alhamadni, adding Canada has a reputation for helping people around the world find safe haven in the country during times of crises. “We would like to be treated the same.”
PeaceQuest readers know that the Israeli bombing campaign has left thousands dead, and many thousands more lives are at risk from a potential invasion. The complete siege has cut off food – weaponizing starvation.
Egypt’s Rafah border crossing is their best hope
All of the border crossings except for one are controlled by Israel, and they are closed. One southern crossing is controlled by Egypt, Rafah, where a mere trickle of aid is crossing into Gaza, but no people are allowed to leave.
Media reports says there are more than 1500 people in Gaza who hold international passports, and Canada’s Foreign Minister Melanie Joly said some 150 people from 40 families with Canadian ties had been “seeking to secure safe passage” using the Rafah crossing.
Early in the conflict there seemed to be a window of opportunity for foreign nationals, including Canadians, to escape Gaza through the Rafah crossing into Egypt. But those hopes were dashed when Israel announced the border opening was cancelled, leaving thousands of shell-shocked civilians gathered near the crossing.
Egypt doesn’t want to open the border to refugees
Egypt is reluctant to open the border in order to avoid adding to the 300,000 refugees it is already hosting. For Egypt, a deluge of Palestinian refugees would not only pose humanitarian and economic challenges — Egypt is currently experiencing a devastating economic crisis — but also security and political ones.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi warned that transferring Palestinians into Sinai will turn the peninsula into a launching pad for attacks against Israel, eliciting Israeli reprisals, triggering war between the two countries and upending the longest peace between Israel and any Arab country.
The problem is not just with Egypt
Hamas, which rules Gaza, doesn’t want civilians to leave either. On Saturday, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said Palestinians will not leave Gaza or the West Bank to migrate to Egypt. “Our decision is to remain in our land,” he said in a televised speech, while addressing Egypt in that part of his address.
Displacement has been a major theme of Palestinian history. In the 1948 war around Israel’s creation, an estimated 700,000 Palestinians were expelled or fled from what is now Israel. Palestinians refer to the event as the Nakba, Arabic for “catastrophe.” Many accuse Israel of forcing Palestinians from their land in a “Nakba2.”
This sentiment is confirmed in a recent poll of Gazans taken just prior to the invasion by Arab Barometer. “A final finding—now backed by countless media reports of Gazans’ anguish as escalating violence forces them to flee their homes—is the strength of people’s connection to the land on which they live. The vast majority of Gazans surveyed—69 percent—said they have never considered leaving their homeland.”
Canada can do more
Nonetheless, at a minimum Canada should be working hard to bring those who wish to come to Canada arrive safely and soon.
Immigration lawyer Maureen Silcoff told CBC policies that can help Palestinians come to Canada faster than usual is something the government has allowed in the past for other groups.
“We’ve seen numerous public policies that are being created for Ukraine, for Afghanistan, for Sudan, for Hong Kong, for a whole host of situations,” said Silcoff. “It’s a matter of the minister deciding what would be appropriate in the circumstances.”
Speaking from southern Ontario, Abdallah Alhamadni says his family is bracing for bad news at every passing moment. If something were to happen to relatives overseas, he would feel “guilty” and that he “failed to protect them.”
- Read “Palestinians in the GTA appeal to federal government to help loved ones flee Gaza” by Tyler Cheese, published by CBC.ca on October 22, 2023
(Cover: Palestinians were injured during an Israeli air strike next to a UN-run school where they had sought refuge in the city of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, on October 24, 2023. Via Shutterstock)