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Displaced Palestinians, who fled their houses due to Israeli strikes, ride a vehicle in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on Jan. 8.IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA/Reuters

Lawyers representing people hoping to bring family members in the Gaza Strip to safety in Canada under special immigration measures that went into effect Tuesday say a decision by Ottawa to cap the program at 1,000 applicants has created panic and uncertainty.

The government confirmed the details of the cap on Tuesday, the day of the program’s launch. The temporary measures will allow people with Canadian citizenship or permanent residency to bring extended family members from Gaza to Canada, where the new arrivals will be able to live as temporary residents for up to three years. The program is intended to allow Palestinians to escape the war between Hamas and Israel, which has been raging in the densely populated strip for three months.

When Immigration Minister Marc Miller originally announced the program in December, he cautioned that Palestinians face a number of obstacles to exiting Gaza, and would need to reach Egypt for biometric checks before they would be eligible to come to Canada. Lists of those hoping to leave Gaza through Egypt’s Rafah border crossing would also need to be vetted by both the Israeli and Egyptian governments, he said.

“The situation on the ground in Gaza is challenging and volatile. These new measures provide a humanitarian pathway to safety and recognize the importance of keeping families together given the ongoing crisis,” Mr. Miller said in a statement Tuesday.

Bahoz Dara Aziz, a spokesperson for Mr. Miller, said the government is not “going to be closing the door” on Palestinians in Gaza once the 1,000-person cap has been reached. Ottawa will reassess the situation to see if the program needs extending, she said.

But Yameena Ansari, a lawyer working with the Gaza Family Reunification Project, a group that is advising Palestinians with family in Gaza on how to apply, said the cap is “instilling sheer panic in people to make sure they submit their applications early on.”

Lawyers offering free assistance to Palestinian families are overwhelmed with inquiries, she added. “Just between the members of our group we have been contacted by over 1,000 potential applicants.”

Pantea Jafari, another lawyer advising people with relatives in Gaza, said some Canadians have large extended families in the strip, meaning the capped program could easily be oversubscribed.

She said the cap has created anxiety and panic among those desperate to get their family members to safety. Some are also concerned about the complexity of the application process detailed by the government on Tuesday.

Many people who had already submitted applications for family in Gaza to join them have had to start again under the new program, with a new two-step process that includes an initial expression of interest through a web form, Ms. Jafari said. She added that they are scrambling to understand the process while “under the duress of the ticking clock of the 1,000 cap.”

Anas Kassab, a business manager at a car dealership in Vancouver, said he spent Tuesday filling out applications to bring 30 family members from Gaza to Canada, including his grandfather, uncles, aunts and young cousins. He is also seeking a visa for his brother-in-law, who is a UNICEF employee.

One of his uncles has already been killed, and one of his cousins lost an eye, both during a strike on a market, he said. He added that some of his family members have had to move several times and are now living on the streets.

He said he was struggling to fill in the applications quickly, and that he was concerned some family members would be left behind because of the cap.

“I am really worried because it’s just 1,000 people. It’s hit or miss to get them out of there,” he said. “There is a very high risk to their lives if they stay there.”

The war began after Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing around 1,200 people, according to Israeli officials. Since then, more than 23,000 people in Gaza have been killed and 58,000 wounded, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry. About two-thirds of those killed have been women and children, Gaza officials have said. The death toll does not distinguish between combatants and civilians. Israel has said its attacks are targeting Hamas.

Matthew Krupovich, a spokesperson for the Immigration Department, said Tuesday that it was not yet possible to say how many applications had been submitted to the special program.

“The new temporary resident pathway takes into account a number of considerations, including the volatility on the ground and the difficulty that Canada and like-minded countries are having in moving people from Gaza to Egypt,” he said.

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