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Displaced Palestinians attempt to get a cell signal to contact relatives in Rafah, on the southern Gaza Strip. Yameena Ansari, a lawyer with the Gaza Family Reunification Project says applications are being ‘erroneously marked as incomplete and returned.'-/Getty Images

The number of Palestinians who have applied to come to Canada to join family under a special immigration program is nearing the 1,000-person cap, but so far none have been able to exit the war-torn Gaza Strip.

Immigration Minister Marc Miller said Canada has so far been unable to find a solution to extract people from the densely populated enclave, which has been bombarded by Israeli air strikes and artillery.

“So, it’s cynical to issue more visas to people who won’t be able to get out,” he said in an interview. “The real proof point is – are we able to get them out – and we have not been able to at this point.”

He said Canada was now “looking at all the options” to try to help people with approved applications leave Gaza, including through its relationship with neighbouring Egypt, adding that “conversations are ongoing.”

“We do have enough applications at this stage where we can advocate for their extraction,” he said.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada said 967 people with family in Canada have applied to come here from Gaza since the program was launched earlier this month.

Pantea Jafari, a Toronto lawyer advising organizations on the Palestinian family reunification program, said IRCC has told applicants deemed eligible to join the program it would contact them on how to exit Gaza.

“To date, we have not heard of anyone receiving such instructions,” she said. “Every minute counts. People are dying by the second.”

More than 26,000 Palestinians have been killed during Israel’s war against Hamas, according to the health ministry in Gaza, which is run by Hamas.

Lawyers working with Palestinians say the situation is desperate and the 1,000-person cap on family members who could come to Canada is creating anxiety among those with family in Gaza.

Mr. Miller told The Globe and Mail the 1,000-person cap would remain “flexible” and he did not want to discourage anyone from applying. But practical obstacles were preventing people from exiting Gaza.

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Lists of names are vetted by Canada, Israel and Egypt, and applicants will have to undergo further vetting and biometric testing in Cairo.

Global Affairs said it was advocating for Canadians, residents and their family to be able to leave.

“Canada puts forward names of Canadians, permanent residents, and their immediate family members to the local authorities for approval but does not ultimately decide who can leave Gaza,” said Pierre Cuguen, spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada.

Yameena Ansari, a lawyer working with the Gaza Family Reunification Project, a group advising Palestinians with family in Gaza, said people at the first stage of their applications were having them “erroneously marked as ‘incomplete’ and returned.”

“These folks may not be able to be processed under the 1,000-person cap even though they meet the eligibility assessment,” she said. “We need a solution for the extensive personal information being requested. If Canada is the one controlling the security protocols and the final security screening will be conducted anyway in Egypt, what’s the need to make applicants provide all this personal information, much of which they don’t even have and can’t acquire in a war zone?”

Matthew Krupovich, a spokesman for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, said the department “had received a large volume of web form submissions” that are currently being processed and reviewed.

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