Ottawa mom fed up with immigration delay to go to children stuck in Gaza

Losing hope in Canada's backlogged immigration system, Jihan Qunoo has bought a plane ticket for this Wednesday to reunite with her three children stuck in Gaza. 

Jihan Qunoo asking Canada to reunite her with 3 children

Jihan Qunoo is photographed at the Prime Minister's Office on Monday. She was there to hand over a petition supporting the fast approval of the family's permanent residency application, in order to bring her three children living in Gaza. (Amanda Pfeffer/CBC)

Losing hope in Canada's backlogged immigration system, an Ottawa mom is planning to board a flight this week to reunite with her three children stuck in Gaza. 

"It's hard to take because I don't want to leave Canada. I feel like I want my kids to be here," said Jihan Qunoo, who fled Gaza in 2019 after being a target of threats by the Hamas government due to her work with a non-profit. 

"At the same time, I feel like every hour I am losing my kids."

Qunoo, an aid worker whose claim as a refugee from that region was approved last fall, is now waiting for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) to approve her permanent residency application — one that includes her three little girls, aged six, 10, and 11, who are currently under the care of their grandmother. Delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic slowed her application process. 

CBC reported on the family's situation as violence in Gaza escalated last month. Since then, IRCC opened the application sitting in a receiving centre in Mississauga, and the case has now been assigned a file number. 

Qunoo also took her plea to the office of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister Marco Mendicino on Monday. (Amanda Pfeffer/CBC)

With that file number, Qunoo's lawyer Jacqueline Bonisteel applied immediately for temporary resident permits. If granted, that lets Qunoo's children wait for their permanent residency applications in Canada.  

But Qunoo says time is running out.  

I will go and save them.- Jihan Qunoo

"I thought the minister would act and save my kids," said Qunoo, outside the office of Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino on Monday.

Qunoo has received support from MP Jenny Kwan, the NDP critic for IRCC, who has sent a letter to the minister urging Qunoo's temporary resident permit application be granted immediately.

Qunoo was not allowed to deliver a petition directly to the IRCC minister's office in Ottawa. Instead, she was told she'd have to pay for a courier. (Amanda Pfeffer/CBC)

"It is simply unacceptable that there is no process in place to allow a parent to not be separated from children while going
through the asylum process," wrote Kwan.

Kwan is also advocating for a six-month limit on applications that involve children, instead of the current delay she now estimates at 39 months for permanent resident status applications of family members of refugee applicants.

The case has also been taken up by local Ottawa refugee advocacy groups who launched a petition that has garnered some 25,000 signatures urging IRCC to bring the children to Canada.

On Monday, Qunoo and about a dozen supporters went to the Prime Minister's Office, as well as Minister Mendicino's office in Ottawa, to submit the petition. She was not allowed to deliver a petition directly to the minister's office, and was told she'd have to pay for a courier, and pass them the envelope to pass to the same IRCC office.

"As a mother, I can feel the pain of Jihan," said Rehana Hashmi, who's with a local group called Sisters Trust Canada. "[It's hard] living without children for a day — what about 39 months?"

Rehana Hashmi, left, with Qunoo. Hashmi is with a local group Sister Trust that provides support to women. (Amanda Pfeffer/CBC)

Boarding a plane Wednesday

Qunoo says without news from IRCC, she feels she has no choice but to board a plane Wednesday and fly to Egypt. She's arranged for the children to travel there to meet her.

As a protected person in Canada, Qunoo has the right to return, and the permanent residency applications for her family will continue to be processed, said her lawyer.

Alexander Cohen, press secretary for Minister Mendicino, said in an email that IRCC has received Qunoo's temporary resident permit applications for her children and husband in Gaza.

"IRCC officers will be reaching out to the family in the next few days," Cohen wrote. 

Cohen said IRCC is adding resources and still prioritizing vulnerable people, their family and those working in essential services.

WATCH | Mom ready to travel to gaza:

Ottawa resident set to travel to Gaza to reunite with children amid struggle to bring them to Canada

4 months ago
Jihan Qunoo, who has refugee status in Canada, has applied to bring her three children to Ottawa from Gaza, where they recently experienced the escalating violence in the region before a ceasefire took effect. 1:21

"They are traumatized," said Qunoo, explaining life in Gaza where there's been widespread destruction in the 11-day war between Israel and Hamas. The kids report electricity is inconsistent and access to fresh water is limited, she said.

In the wake of the ceasefire in Gaza, Qunoo tries to speak to her kids sometimes with a phone in each hand through the night when they have trouble sleeping. (Jihan Qunoo)

Qunoo is worried for her children's mental health. She said she has been trying to speak with them by phone — sometimes through the night because that's when bombings took place.

"They don't feel like there is hope," said Qunoo. "So for me as a mom, I need to act. If no one will act — I will act. I will go and save them."

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