Canadians stuck in southern Gaza grew increasingly frustrated on Thursday as they waited for approval to cross into Egypt, while officials in Canada reiterated that they’re still working to make that happen.
Canada was not among the countries with citizens in the region on a list of those allowed to cross published by Gaza border authorities Wednesday, although other countries were, including Japan, the U.K., Finland, Australia, the Czech Republic and Bulgaria.
Only one Canadian was reportedly able to exit — an international worker who as on a different list — as the crossing opened to a few hundred foreign passport holders for the first time since the Israel-Hamas war began on Oct. 7.
Canadian Said Alhassoimi, 16, said he and his family rushed to the Rafah border crossing on Wednesday after getting a call from Global Affairs Canada and hearing it was opening, only to find out Canadians were not among the foreigners allowed to cross.
“We got a call [Tuesday] from Global Affairs and they told us to just get ready. I didn’t know what that meant,” Alhassoimi told CBC News on Wednesday. “We checked our names and sadly our names were not on that list … and we’re confused, because we talked to the Canadian government and they said we were registered.”
Said also spoke to CBC News last Friday when he and his family had been waiting by the border for three days. He said he was trying to “keep a strong face” and hide his sadness as he copes, along with his 14-year-old brother and sisters, who are 13, nine and three.
Some people trying to flee the bombings have repeatedly gone to the Egyptian-controlled crossing over the last three weeks after hearing it might open.
Ahmad Abualjedian, a Canadian permanent resident living in Brantford, Ont., has family in Gaza and said he is desperate for help getting his wife and newborn daughter out of the besieged Palestinian territory.
“I want to see my daughter — to hug her, to touch her,” said Abualjedian, who was with his wife before the war began, but was then separated from her because he had to return to Canada in September.
All he has for now is a 57-second video of his daughter, Sila, who was born on Oct. 23. He says he’s very worried because neither his daughter nor other family members still in Gaza have Canadian citizenship.
More than 300 foreign passport holders and more than 70 seriously injured Palestinians were allowed to leave Gaza at the Rafah border crossing on Wednesday, the first such departure since the Israel-Hamas war began nearly four weeks ago.
“We continue to work around the clock to secure a window for Canadians to exit Gaza. We are communicating directly with Canadians, giving them the latest information regarding the situation,” said a statement from Global Affairs Canada on Thursday. The department added that Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly “is in contact with both her Israeli and Egyptian counterparts and our embassies are pushing through their channels as well.”
No Canadians left Gaza via the Rafah crossing on Thursday, according to a government source with direct knowledge of the situation, who asked not to be identified because they were not authorized to speak publicly.
U.S. President Joe Biden told reporters at the White House on Thursday that 74 Americans with dual citizenship have been able to leave Gaza through the Rafah crossing.
Canada has relatively large contingent in Gaza
Global Affairs has said it expects foreign and dual nationals will be able to leave Gaza on a country-by-country basis. Canada will be assigned a specific departure date for some 450 Canadians who are registered with the department in Gaza and West Bank.
“Canada has one of the largest contingents of nationals in Gaza,” said a statement from Global Affairs Canada on Wednesday night, which had noted countries on the initial list had fewer citizens in the territory. “We expect further crossings daily over the coming days.”
Mahmoud Nasser, another Canadian man trying to get out of Gaza with his family, said Global Affairs Canada has asked him to gather his documents and be prepared to leave at any moment through the border crossing.
Mahmoud Nasser said his wife, who has a Brazilian passport, got a call from Global Affairs on Thursday during which an official confirmed that Nasser, his wife, his Canadian father and brother and his Palestinian sister-in-law were all registered with Ottawa to evacuate.
He said Global Affairs did not provide a date or time for a potential evacuation but told his family to watch a list being published online by the General Authority for Border Crossings in Gaza that has been detailing the foreigners allowed to leave since Wednesday.