Ottawa

Family reunited in Ottawa after being separated amid strife in Gaza

An Ottawa woman who fled to Canada as a refugee almost two years ago says the nightmare of being separated from her family has come to an end. Jihan Qunoo, her husband and three daughters landed at Ottawa International Airport on Friday after reuniting two weeks earlier in Cairo.

Jihan Qunoo hadn't seen her daughters, husband for almost two years

Jihan Qunoo (back right), her husband and three daughters arrive at Ottawa International Airport on Friday. Qunoo's husband and daughters have been granted temporary residence status while Qunoo's permanent residence status is processed. (Submitted by Jihan Qunoo)

An Ottawa woman who fled to Canada from Gaza as a refugee almost two years ago says the nightmare of being separated from her family has come to an end. 

Jihan Qunoo, her husband and three daughters landed at Ottawa International Airport on Friday after reuniting two weeks earlier in Cairo.

The Egypt reunion was the first time they'd all been together since July 2019. The family will now settle in the nation's capital as they wait for their permanent resident applications to be processed.

"I have been trying the last two years, I mean, to bring them here," said Qunoo.

"So I feel like it's a dream."

Greeted by supporters

A group of supporters gathered at the arrivals hall and cheered as they welcomed the Palestinian family, who were decked out in hats and flags adorned with the red maple leaf.

"They made our day. We [felt] like we are coming home. We are not coming to a new country," said Qunoo.

The family's arrival in Canada ended a long ordeal that hit a crisis point when violence broke out between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza last month.

As Israeli airstrikes bombarded the enclave where her family lived, Qunoo was half the world away in Ottawa. 

She had applied to bring her three children to Canada, but delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic and a backlog of applications slowed the process.

Jihan Qunoo visited the office of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau earlier this month to hand over a petition with signatures from 25,000 people, all urging the federal government to bring her children to Canada. (Amanda Pfeffer/CBC)

The violence caused Qunoo to fear for the safety of her girls, ages six, 10, and 12. She made a desperate plea to immigration officials to get them out of Gaza and attempted to deliver a petition signed by 25,000 people to the offices of the prime minister and the minister of immigration, refugees and citizenship.

Just as Qunoo began losing hope, officials approved temporary resident permits for her children and her husband, granting them permission to live in Canada as they waited for a decision on their permanent residency.

'Tears of happiness' 

Qunoo has said that she and her family had been the target of threats by the Hamas government in Gaza because of her work as the senior financial officer for a non-profit funded through American agency USAid.

She told CBC News that seeing her daughters for the first time in two years in Cairo — and knowing they would soon join her in Canada — was a "wonderful feeling."

"Our tears of happiness were not willing to stop," she said.

Qunoo said her children will need time to adjust to their new surroundings. But she's looking forward to showing them around the city, once they've completed their mandatory two-week quarantine.

"We feel safe now," she said. "Gaza's [an] unsafe place and it's such [an] unhealthy environment for my kids. But now they can start their new life."

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