A refugee couple in the Gaza border town of Rafah are expecting their second child next week, but without a safe place to deliver, they’re hoping to escape to Canada as soon as possible.
The couple, Lama and Nedal Zaqout, are among 1.4 million refugees in Gaza, the majority of them crowded against the Egyptian border as they nervously await Israel’s next move.
22-year-old Lama’s delivery will require a c-section, but major hospitals in the region such as Al-Shifa, where Nedal worked as a nurse when the Israel-Hamas war started, have been destroyed in battle. Nedal says Lama, who suffers from anemia, has been struggling to find health care. She is due to deliver her second child on Feb. 14.
“I am filled with fear,” Lama told Global News. “How will we survive what awaits us?”
“The situation is hopeless,” Nedal said.
Nedal’s sister, Rasha Zaqout, is a Canadian citizen living in Montreal. Six weeks ago, she applied for a temporary resident visa to bring the couple to Canada. A spokesperson for immigration minister Marc Miller told Global News that they are unable to comment on specific cases. However, right now it is difficult — if not impossible — to get Canadians with family members in Gaza out, they said.
“No one who has a TRV (temporary resident visa) in process under the public policy has been able to leave Gaza yet. We have not (cleared) 1,000 TRVs in processing yet but the focus is trying to get people out of Gaza. We’re remaining flexible on the number,” said spokesperson Bahoz Dara Aziz in a statement.
Young refugee couple in Gaza pinning hopes on Canada as they prepare for difficult birth
Nedal says escaping to Canada is their “only hope,” not just for his and Lama’s life, but their baby.
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“I urge the Canadian government and the Minister of Immigration to take immediate action to evacuate Lama Zaqout,” Rasha told Global News.
Over half of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million have fled to Rafah to escape fighting in other areas, and are packed into sprawling tent camps and U.N.-run shelters near the border.
Netanyahu orders evacuation plan for Rafah ahead of expanded Gaza ground offensive
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in an interview with ABC News “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” suggested civilians in Rafah could flee north, saying there are “plenty of areas” that have been cleared by the army. He said Israel is developing a “detailed plan” to relocate them. But Israel’s offensive has caused widespread destruction, particularly in northern Gaza, and heavy fighting is still taking place in central Gaza and the southern city of Khan Younis.
A ground operation in Rafah could also cut off one of the only avenues for delivering Gaza’s badly needed food and medical supplies.
If the relocation happens, it will be the fifth time Nedal and Lama have been forced to flee since Hamas first invaded Israel on Oct. 7.
“There’s nowhere left to go now,” Nedal said.
He and his wife were “happy and stable” building their lives before the war, he says. Now, like many others, Nedal, Lama and their son are merely surviving in a tent at the Egyptian border without a reliable, steady supply of clean water and food.
Palestinians brace for all-out Israeli offensive in Rafah
After a complicated delivery of their first child, Nedal is plagued with worries for his wife and son, who he says has fallen into a “state of depression” from the trauma of the war.
“How will I deal with my wife’s pregnancy and her pain? Where will I go next? There is no hospital left suitable for my wife’s delivery, or even doctors, blood transfusions, painkillers, or care. ” he said.
“I ask the Canadian government to look at us with eyes of mercy and remove us from the situation and the area in which we are being betrayed. The most important thing is that my wife and my family be safe.”
— with files from Global News’ David Akin and The Associated Press
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