OTTAWA – The government says it has developed a “multi-stage security screening” for Palestinians from Gaza applying to a temporary visa program, but a group of immigration lawyers is raising concerns about security risks for people coming from the Hamas-controlled territory.
Applications for the new three-year visa will be screened while applicants are still on the ground in Gaza, Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada said. If “no inadmissibility concerns are flagged” at that point, then the applicants will be eligible for the next stage, “full biometric, security and admissibility screening,” which will take place in a third country if the applicant is able to exit Gaza.
“Only applicants who pass full biometric, security and admissibility screening will be allowed to travel onward to Canada,” said department spokesperson Matthew Krupovich.
He said the screening process will involve the Immigration Department as well as the Canada Border Services Agency and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.
“Only Government of Canada officials make decisions regarding admissibility to Canada, and will decide whether or not a temporary resident visa will be issued. Other governments are not involved with this program,” the department said.
However, a recently formed group called Lawyers for Secure Immigration wrote to the government this week warning that Hamas’s control of Gaza and the limited state capacity there pose security risks to Canada. Polls show significant support from Palestinians in Gaza for Hamas and its October terrorist attack against Israelis
“We are advocating for cautious and thorough screening by our Canadian security specialists before an applicant can board the plane to Canada,” the group wrote in a submission to the government.
The special immigration program was announced in December in response to the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. The federal government said it would allow Gazans with family in Canada to apply for temporary visas that would let them stay here for three years. It would also allow successful applicants to apply for work or study permits at no cost. Applicants would have to show they would be supported financially by someone in Canada for at least a year.
The government originally said the program would be designed to allow 1,000 Palestinians from Gaza, but Immigration Minister Marc Miller has since said that there would be no “hard cap” on the number of people allowed to use the program.
In announcing the program, Miller said it was important to offer some people a path out of the war.
“These new measures provide a humanitarian pathway to safety and recognize the importance of keeping families together given the ongoing crisis. We will continue to monitor the situation in Gaza very closely as it evolves and adapt our response accordingly,” he said in December.
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There remain questions how many Palestinians will even have access to the program due to the difficulties in leaving Gaza.
Since the war broke out in October, only a small number of people have been able to leave Gaza through the Rafah border into Egypt. All border crossings into Israel have been blockaded and Egypt is very careful about allowing Palestinians into its country. It took weeks for Canada and other western countries to evacuate their own citizens out of the territory after the war began.
“Movement out of Gaza remains extremely challenging, and may not be possible as countries and other actors set their own entry and exit requirements,” Krupovich said. “People wishing to exit Gaza are required to provide specific information required by the governments of Israel and Egypt for every traveller in advance.”
The government said it could share information about applicants with Israel and Egypt in order to facilitate their exit, “with the consent of the people involved.”
The government set up a similar program for people fleeing the war in Ukraine and nearly a million people were approved to come to Canada, however just over 200,000 actually made the trip. The government did not set a cap on that program.
Liberal MP Salma Zahid released an open letter to Miller and said Canada should be offering the same deal to Palestinians in Gaza as it did to Ukrainians.
“It is strongly felt that the immigration measures and support for Ukrainians and their families should be used as a model here. Specifically, relating to measures around application fees support on arrival and dedicated program assistance,” she wrote.
The Australian government launched a similar program for Gazans in November and had issued more than 800 visas as of mid-December, but only 143 applicants had actually made it to Australia, according to a report in The Guardian.
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