Allow War-Traumatized Kids from Gaza to Live With Parents in Canada

Allow War-Traumatized Kids from Gaza to Live With Parents in Canada

June 9, 2021
Petition to
Sean Fraser (Immigration Minister) and
Signatures: 19,491Next Goal: 25,000
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Why this petition matters

Started by Matthew Behrens

Dr. Mustafa Elhawi is a Palestinian refugee in Edmonton with a lengthy history of working overseas with Canadian government programs funding civil society projects in the Gaza Strip, West Bank, and Jerusalem. Sadly, he has been separated from his wife and daughter for 44 months awaiting reunification, particularly painful since they had spent 35 years together before he came to Canada. During that time, he suffered a particularly bad double blow: in April 2021, he contracted COVID-19 and was hospitalized for 40 days (20 of those in the ICU). This was terrifying for him on many levels, not least of which he was helplessly lying in bed trying to breathe while his family was being bombed during the May, 2021 attacks on Gaza. In addition, it appears he suffers from Long Covid. On top of that, he recently broke his leg and, as someone living alone, has no one to care for him. Dr. Elhawi needs the Canadian government to grant his wife and daughter Early Admission Temporary Resident Permits to allow them to be together during their PR processing. Twelve other long-separated Palestinian refugee families from Gaza received those same permits since May, 2021, and his family deserves the same too, considering the brutal conditions that continue to exist in Gaza as well as the ongoing threat of more military violence raining down upon them.

Family reunification is a humanitarian principle Canada has repeatedly committed itself to but often failed to deliver. The average processing time is an average of 39 months. 

The aforementioned dozen convention refugees in Canada had been separated from their loved ones in war-ravaged Gaza for three to four years. Without an immediate, positive intervention, they faced an additional separation of almost 3.5 years. They are traumatized children yearning for a parent’s comforting hugs or dreaming of a safe playground without bomb craters. They are spouses unable to build lives together. They are families for whom each moment apart is a cruel punishment. 

As we have since May, 2021, we continue to call on Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) Minister Sean Fraser to urgently enact special immigration measures (including, but not limited to, the blanket issuance of Early Entrance Temporary Resident Permits or Temporary Resident Visas) to immediately reunite such families. The best interests of affected children and Canada’s commitment to family reunification demand urgent action on these cases. It would be unconscionable to leave them in Gaza for at least another three years after UN Secretary-General António Guterres declared, "If there is a hell on earth, it is the lives of children in Gaza.”     

Canada has a history of enacting such measures in response to humanitarian crises. Recently, IRCC announced a temporary residence public policy for in-Canada families of the victims of the Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 and Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 tragedies. Last September, similar assistance was extended to those with loved ones affected by the horrific Beirut explosion. Following the December, 2004 tsunami in Indonesia, Canada waived fees and granted priority processing to hundreds of affected permanent resident applicants. In light of the invasion of Ukraine, Canada has opened its doors to fast-track resettlement for Ukrainian refugees.

The current conditions in Gaza constitute a humanitarian crisis that UNICEF concludes “adds to existing vulnerabilities and [is] likely to increase poverty, vulnerability and loss of livelihoods exacerbating an already dire situation.” Shortages of food, fuel, clean water, and medicine, compounded by extensive infrastructure damage, and a trauma that is particularly devastating for children and young couples, are just part of the daily life endured by separated family members who could begin the path to health and healing once reunited in Canada as they await processing of their permanent residency applications.

Coupled with these poor conditions is the fragile security situation in Gaza which, the Government of Canada acknowledges, “could deteriorate with little or no notice.” On May 28, 2021, Global Affairs Canada listed the Gaza Strip as a place to which one should “avoid all travel” due to “the possible resumption of armed hostilities.”

In early June, 2021, Canada granted Early Entrance Temporary Resident Permits to the Gaza-based husband and children of Ottawa Palestinian refugee Jihan Qunoo, who fled Gaza in 2019. The conditions faced by Qunoo’s family (and the other 11 families since approved) are no different than those impacting the remaining group of refugees from Gaza. 

We call on the Minister to immediately enact whatever measures are necessary to issue early entrance temporary resident permits or temporary resident visas to allow similar family reunification in the cases of in-Canada Palestinian refugees who have been found to be persons in need of protection and who have submitted permanent residence applications. Such a policy must be flexible enough to also include those in-Canada Palestinian refugee claimants who, following successful hearings, submit permanent resident applications.

While the numbers of those who would benefit from such measures are modest, the positive difference it will make in all of their lives is huge.

On October 5, 2020, then Minister Mendicino tweeted: "Our government strongly believes in the importance of keeping families together—particularly during difficult times. Now, more than ever, family reunification is an important component of Canada’s immigration system.” 

Answering this call to reunite in-Canada Palestinian refugee families with children and spouses facing such difficult times while stuck in Gaza will help give true life to that commitment.



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Signatures: 19,491Next Goal: 25,000
Support now