The first cohort of Canadian citizens and family members eligible to leave the war-torn Gaza Strip gathered at the Rafah border crossing with Egypt Tuesday morning after receiving a notice from Global Affairs Canada.
“An email was sent to me … saying that I should leave Gaza for the border today, this morning. I’ve been here since 7 a.m.,” said Mohammed Sharif AlGhusain who, along with his wife and two daughters, is on a list of 80 Canadians and family members approved to leave Gaza for the first time since the Israel-Hamas war began a month ago.
So far, about 20 to 25 Canadians and family members have crossed the border, according to Global Affairs Canada.
AlGhusain and other evacuees spoke to CBC freelance journalist Mohamed Elsaife at the Rafah border crossing.
The email AlGhusain and others on the list received from Global Affairs Canada said the Rafah border crossing would be open at 9 a.m. local time Tuesday. It said consular officials would be waiting on the Egypt side of the border to help get evacuees on a bus to Cairo where the government of Egypt will allow them to stay for up to three days.
“While in Cairo, we will provide food, accommodation and basic necessities. We will also help with onward travel to Canada at your own expense,” reads the Canadian government’s email. “Financial assistance in the form of emergency loans for travel are available to those in need.”
In a video statement posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly said the first batch of Canadians have been met by diplomats in Egypt.
“I know families and loved ones have been waiting anxiously; finally the first group of Canadians were evacuated out of Gaza,” Joly said, before going on to thank the Egyptian, Israeli, and Qatari governments and diplomats for their work.
The first group of Canadians have left Gaza. Our team of officials has met them on the Egyptian side of the border, providing them with support and care. <a href=”https://t.co/Bc4CPerVew”>pic.twitter.com/Bc4CPerVew</a>
Canadian evacuations follow days after other foreign nationals were able to leave the Gaza Strip, which has been under constant Israeli bombardment after a Hamas attack on southern Israel that killed 1,400 people on Oct. 7. Hamas fighters also seized 240 hostages.
Gaza health officials say the Israeli assault since then has killed 10,328 Palestinians, including some 4,237 children.
Those who can leave are relieved to be able to get out, but say they mourn the loss of their homes, loved ones, and livelihoods in Gaza, and fear for those left behind.
AlGhusain said he was able to get his wife and daughters on the evacuation list “after a lot of trials,” but couldn’t get his parents and sister on it.
“That was such a difficult situation to choose between leaving with my own family and leave my parents behind,” AlGhusain said. He called on the Canadian government to help evacuate the rest of his family.
For Abdel Nassar, a Canadian who is leaving Gaza with his wife, the moment is bittersweet.
“I’m happy I’m going to Canada but my house here is with my family,” said Nassar. “I got over 30 friends I lost … I lost over 20 people in my family.”
Nassar said his home and business have been bombed in the past month, and that there is “nothing left” in Gaza.
Ayah Aziz also hopes her journey out of the Gaza Strip with her three children will be a safe one, after she lost her home, had family members killed, and like others, was living without electricity and clean water.
According to Global Affairs Canada, the Israel Defence Force said last week that “more than 400 Canadian citizens, permanent residents and eligible family members would be able to leave Gaza through the Rafah border crossing in the coming days.”
“The fact that the first group got out is very encouraging,” Ahmed Hussen, Canada’s International Development Minister told CBC News. “I believe this will build the momentum to get the rest of them out, now that we have the modalities to ensure a safe passage.”
There are currently 451 Canadians living in Gaza and the West Bank who are registered with Global Affairs Canada. The names of the first cohort of people allowed to leave appeared on a widely shared Google spreadsheet that lists about 20 Canadian citizens while the rest are dual citizens or Palestinian.