Ola Dahman never imagined she’d be living without her husband and two sons for two years when she fled Gaza for Canada while pregnant in May 2019.
“I feel guilty and I can’t forgive myself that I left them under these circumstances for more than two years,” Dahman cried during an interview with London Morning host Rebecca Zandbergen.
Dahman now lives in London, Ont., with her 23-month-old daughter, Layan. Her husband, Mohammed, and their sonsAnas, 10, and Yusef, 13, are still in Gaza, while the Canadian government processes the family’s permanent resident application.
Dahman’s daughter has never met her father or brothers.
“I’m very sad because my daughter can’t enjoy having a family and we are alone most of the time,” she said.
“My children miss me. My children, they are suffering,” said Dahman. “The situation is very unstable and it’s not safe. It’s my home, my country and I love it. But unfortunately, it’s not a good environment for my children to to be growing up there.”
An 11-day war wreaked havoc in the region in May, causing widespread destruction in the Gaza Strip.
Dahman, who has a master’s degree in computer engineering and is enrolled in Fanshawe College’s Software and Information Systems Testing program, only received refugee status in October 2020, 17 months after arriving in Canada.
She submitted her permanent residency application in November 2020 and is now waiting for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) to approve the applications, which include for her husband and three children.
I feel that I’m missing a part of my body, a part of my mind. I’m worried about them every moment, every day.– Ola Dahman
The timeline to permanent residency is unacceptable, said Matthew Behrens of Rural Refugee Rights Network, which has been lobbying the federal government to reunify 12 refugees from Gaza with their families. So far, two of those families have been reunited.
“It’s embedded in Canada’s immigration legislation, that family reunification is one of the cornerstones of what immigration is supposed to be about,” said Behrens.
He wants the government to expedite Dahman’s application.
“We’ve heard that someone who had to come here to save their life feels guilty because of that,” he said. “If we have a system that’s doing that to someone like Ola, we have to ask, ‘What is wrong with this system?'”
Daily video calls keep family connected
Dahman talks to her family in Gaza daily through WhatsApp video calls and texts.
“My youngest son sends me photos with his new recipes. He tries to cook. He always reminds me of the yummy food that I used to prepare for them,” said Dahman, adding she’s still hoping to see her family soon.
“I’m very optimistic that this will happen. I feel it,” she said. Dahman’s youngest son, Anas, has already packed his suitcase, including a stuffed animal for the sister he’s never met.
“Nothing has meaning without them,” she said. “I feel that I’m missing a part of my body, a part of my mind. I’m worried about them every moment, every day.”
CBC has reached out to the Canadian government for comment.