Mohammed Alzaza was a 15-year-old Palestinian teenager in Gaza when he and his 12-year-old cousin were hit by an Israeli drone strike while playing on the beach in August, 2011. His cousin was killed; Mohammed’s injuries were so severe that he required 22 surgeries in Israel, and later in Egypt and Turkey.
Despite these obstacles, he completed his high school diploma, but could not attend university because of ongoing chronic pain in his hand, legs and abdomen. He suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), both from the drone strike and because during his last attempt to receive surgery in Israel, he was tortured by Israeli authorities.
Fortunately, with financial assistance from the international community, Mohammed was finally able to get to Cairo and subsequently to Turkey more than 4 years ago. He sought protection there and was hopeful that he could get healthcare, find a way to study and work, and begin his new life. Unfortunately, the Turkish government only granted him only a tourist visa, and he was therefore not eligible for healthcare. In addition, he was in too much pain to study. His Turkish visa had expired, making any attempt to get medical support even more difficult. He was basically unable to leave his room.
In late 2020, one of the Israeli activists who had been supporting Mohammed for the previous few years contacted Yom Shamash, a member of IJV-Vancouver. He wondered if we could sponsor him as a refugee to Canada, since he could no longer get healthcare and support in Turkey.
Yom approached the BC Muslim Association, which had a history of successful refugee sponsorships, and asked them if they would co-sponsor Mohammed with IJV. The Association agreed, as long as IJV committed to taking on the major responsibility for his settlement. In January of 2021 Mohammed was approved as a privately-sponsored refugee in Canada. However, over the next months there was no movement on his case, and IJV was repeatedly told that the processing time was at least 18 months from the time of approval.
Given Mohammed’s medical condition, IJV-Vancouver then approached several Members of Parliament and asked them to send letters asking for expedited treatment for Mohammed to the Minister of Immigration as well as the Canadian Embassy in Turkey. The MPs we approached did send letters of support as requested. However, there was still no movement on his case.
In early 2022, IJV-Vancouver decided to initiate a petition to the Minister of Immigration, requesting an expedited approval for Mohammed to come to Canada. The petition gained a lot of traction, notably due to support from British musician and Pink Floyd founder Roger Waters. More than 23,000 people signed the petition, which was subsequently delivered to the Minister. In the fall of 2022, MP for Vancouver East, Jenny Kwan—in an attempt to expedite his arrival to Canada—made direct reference to Mohammed’s case to the Minister of Immigration. But still Mohammed heard nothing. IJV Vancouver then sought to enlist the help of an immigration consultant to make sure that all the paperwork was in order.
Mohammed was informed by the Canadian Embassy in Turkey in late 2022 that his exit visa was being approved pending his medical and security clearance. This took another few months, but on February 1st, 2023 Mohammed finally arrived in Vancouver. Shortly before this date, IJV Vancouver initiated a Gofundme campaign to support Mohammed for his first year in Vancouver. To date, IJV has raised almost $18,000 in this campaign.
Mohammed is currently settling into Vancouver life, has been housed by a generous couple who were pleased to welcome him, has been getting medical and dental care, started English conversations classes, and has joined two choirs. An afternoon social event in his honour, which was well attended, was held on Sunday March 13, sponsored by IJV-Vancouver.
IJV-Vancouver is still collecting donations to help cover the costs of re-settling Mohammed in Vancouver. If you would like to contribute, please get in touch with firstname.lastname@example.org.