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He went to Gaza to help his wife make the journey to Canada. Now they’re both trapped there

A man from Thunder Bay is among hundreds of Canadians waiting for Global Affairs Canada's go-ahead to cross the Rafah border from Gaza into Egypt to escape the Israel-Hamas war. Here's what his friends in northwestern Ontario are doing to bring Ahmed Abuhussein and his spouse back home.

Ahmed Abuhussein, his spouse remain at Jabalia refugee camp

A man wearing a white helmet and neon yellow construction vest holds a bottle, smiling. He is standing outside with greenery behind him.

A Thunder Bay, Ont., resident who's among the hundreds of Canadians stuck in Gaza as the Israel-Hamas war continues is trying to make the trek across the Rafah border into Egypt with his spouse.

Ahmed Abuhussein is a hydrogeologist for the provincial Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry and the only person in this role in the district. He completed his PhD at Western University in London, Ont., before moving to northwestern Ontario. Abuhussein obtained his Canadian citizenship last year, his close friend, Rami El Mawed, told CBC News.

This summer, Abuhussein received much-awaited news that his wife secured a visitor visa to come to Canada. Since the trip across the border from Gaza to Egypt isn't easy, even in the best of times, he took a flight there last month to help her make the journey to Canada, said El Mawed.

Five days later, on Oct. 7, Hamas militants launched a surprise attack against southern Israel that killed about 1,400 people, including several Canadians. In response, Israel launched an offensive against Gaza that has included airstrikes and ground troops.

Abuhussein and his wife have been there ever since.

"It's very dire consequences here that he's dealing with. It's definitely difficult on him, on everyone," said El Mawed.

WATCH | Rami El Mawed speaks about efforts to bring Ahmed Abuhussein home

He's doing everything he can to get his friend back home from Gaza

14 hours ago

Duration 2:55

Featured VideoA Thunder Bay, Ont., resident is among hundreds of Canadians trapped amid the conflict in Gaza waiting for the green light to cross the border into Egypt. Hear from Canadian immigration consultant Rami El Mawed who's trying to get his friend Ahmed Abuhussein back home.

Over 10,022 Palestinians have been killed, including 4,104 children, in Israeli strikes on Gaza since then, the Health Ministry in Hamas-controlled Gaza said Monday. Some Western intelligence agencies have disputed the figures being given by the Health Ministry, though its reporting in previous conflicts has been viewed as generally accurate.

On Monday, the heads of several major United Nations bodies called for a humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza.

Communications broken down

A lack of cellular services has strained communications between Abuhussein and his friends and family, and has made it difficult to get information to him from Global Affairs Canada, the body responsible for facilitating the departure of Canadians from Gaza.

El Mawed, who is also a regulated Canadian immigration consultant, last heard directly from his friend on Friday. The next day, El Mawed got a call from Global Affairs Canada saying Abuhussein was on the list of Canadians approved to leave Gaza, but was told the federal government cannot facilitate his transportation to reach the border.

A crowd of people are seen amid the rubble of destroyed buildings.

There's only one road left undamaged connecting the north of Gaza to the south. It's about a 40-kilometre drive between the Jabalia refugee camp, where Abuhussein and his wife are staying, and the crossing.

"That's where I feel the Canadian government hasn't been doing enough to ensure their safe evacuation," El Mawed said.

Global Affairs Canada has told CBC News it is in contact with more than 500 Canadian citizens, permanent residents and family members trapped in the war-torn region. It's hoped departures will begin as early as Tuesday, but "this will continue to shift until the border reopens," the federal department said in a statement.

'A roller-coaster every day'

Bridget Antze has worked with Abuhussein at the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry for the last three years. She recalled the first time she went out in the field with him on a hot summer day and how he bought popsicles for everyone.

"Ahmed is just the kindest, most thoughtful, smart, dedicated person that you can meet," Antze said. "It's a roller-coaster every day of scrolling through news articles, seeing news about attacks on the Jabalia refugee camp, which is where he's located, and wondering if he's alive or dead."

Antze and Abuhussein have been working together on the Steep Rock Mine Rehabilitation Project near Atikokan. Much of Abuhussein's research has focused on clean drinking water, something his friends fear he doesn't have access to in the refugee camp.

Both Antze and El Mawed have been writing to the local Liberal MPs, Marcus Powlowski and Patty Hajdu, in an effort to push the federal government to do more to help Canadians in Gaza.

In an emailed statement to CBC News on Monday, Hajdu's office acknowledged she is aware of Abuhussein's situation.

"I am devastated by the situation that Ahmed and his family are facing in Gaza. I am not able to publicly discuss individual files but my office has been working to ensure Ahmed and any constituents who have reached out for help are connected with Global Affairs for support," wrote Hajdu, who represents the riding of Thunder Bay—Superior North.

"This is the best way for people to receive necessary information. The evolving situation on the ground is fluid and complex, with government officials working hard to support Canadian citizens, permanent residents and their eligible family members to leave Gaza."

It's a roller-coaster every day of scrolling through news articles… and wondering if he's alive or dead.

– Bridget Antze, co-worker of Ahmed Abuhussein

Antze and El Mawed aren't the only ones in Thunder Bay making their voices heard. More than 200 people attended a rally at Hillcrest Park on Saturday as part of a national day of action calling for a ceasefire in Gaza.

El Mawed has a few key asks for the Canadian government:

  • People on the ground to help Canadians safely make the trip to the border crossing.
  • More co-ordination between the government and non-governmental organizations.
  • Direction from Global Affairs Canada about how to mark vehicles coming from refugee camps to let people know they're civilians.
  • A smoother process to provide family members of Canadian citizens in Gaza with temporary visas, so even if they can't come to Canada, they can at least cross the border into Egypt.

"Ahmed is Canadian and he has some rights and obligations from the government to protect its citizens, so we would like to see some action on that aspect," El Mawed said.

'People on the ground' have biggest impact

Powlowski, MP for Thunder Bay-Rainy River, said that while he has received messages from local constituents about the conflict and Abuhussein's situation specifically, there is not much he can do for any one person in Gaza.

"It's a difficult situation and I think our government, like all governments, are trying to walk their way through it and trying to reduce loss of lives on all sides," Powlowski said.

A person kneels on the grass with her fist in the air. A large crowd of people holding signs can be seen behind them.

As a doctor, he has experience treating people in refugee camps and said "it's the people on the ground who can make a lot more of a difference.

"When you're so far away, it is difficult to influence anything, especially as a backbencher in Parliament," he said. "Hopefully help will be coming soon and hopefully [Abuhussein will] be out of there soon."

In the meantime, El Mawed and the rest of Abuhussein's friends in Thunder Bay are left constantly refreshing their inboxes and social media feeds, awaiting further news from the Jabalia camp.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sarah Law

Reporter

Sarah Law is a CBC News reporter based in Thunder Bay, Ont., and has also worked for newspapers and online publications elsewhere in the province. Have a story tip? You can reach her at sarah.law@cbc.ca

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