Canada announces five-fold increase in visas for Palestinians in Gaza

Immigration Minister Marc Miller says 5,000 visas will be offered to Palestinians seeking to join family in Canada.

Immigration minister Marc Miller
Canadian Immigration Minister Marc Miller has expressed concern about the 'humanitarian tragedy' unfolding in Gaza [Blair Gable/Reuters]

Canada has announced a five-fold increase in visas for Palestinians in Gaza seeking to join their family members in the country, despite the Canadian government’s inability to help applicants get out of the bombarded Palestinian enclave.

Minister of Immigration Marc Miller said on Monday that Ottawa would raise to 5,000 the number of visas offered to residents in Gaza under a special programme announced in December.

“We remain deeply concerned about the humanitarian tragedy unfolding in Gaza. Many people are worried about their loved ones and have expressed significant interest in the temporary special measures we introduced for their extended family in Gaza,” Miller said in a statement.

Miller said the government is working to assist Palestinians trying to leave Gaza, but that movement out of the territory is currently not possible due to factors outside Ottawa’s control.

Gaza residents who wish to join family in Canada must obtain approval from Israeli authorities to leave the territory, before undergoing biometric screening in Egypt.

Israel’s military earlier this month seized control of the Gaza side of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt as part of its offensive in the southern city.

“While movement out of Gaza is not currently possible, the situation may change at any time. With this cap increase, we will be ready to help more people as the situation evolves. Our focus remains on keeping families together,” Miller said.

“Canada continues to put forward the names of those who have passed preliminary screening to local authorities to secure their exit from Gaza. Israel and Egypt are both important partners in implementing these temporary, humanitarian measures and helping people reunite with their family in Canada.”

But the Canadian visa programme has been widely criticised, in large part because Canada has been unable to get any Palestinians out of the Gaza Strip as a result of the scheme.

That has fuelled frustrations and anger from families trying to bring their relatives to safety amid Israel’s continued war on Gaza, which has killed more than 36,000 Palestinians since early October.

Some Canadian visa-holders managed to get out of the coastal territory on their own after paying thousands of dollars to reach Egypt, but such exits were done without Canada’s assistance.

Palestinian visa applicants also have been forced to answer invasive and confusing questions that lawyers and other experts say go beyond what is typically required by Canada.

“It is such a disaster,” Debbie Rachlis, a Toronto immigration and refugee lawyer who represents families seeking to bring their relatives to Canada, told Al Jazeera last month about the programme. “It is the worst thing I’ve ever seen or experienced.”

Monday’s announcement came as Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Melanie Joly joined a chorus of international condemnation following a deadly Israeli attack on a camp for displaced Palestinians in Rafah.

“This level of human suffering must come to an end. We demand an immediate ceasefire,” Joly said in a statement.

At least 45 people, including 23 women, children and elderly, were killed and 249 others wounded in the attack on the tent camp, according to Gaza’s Ministry of Health.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said the civilian deaths were a “tragic mistake” and the incident is being investigated.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies