Thunder Bay Hydrogeologist Trapped in Gaza Amidst Conflict, Community Rallies for His Safe Return

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Ahmed Abuhussein is a hydrogeologist with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. A Canadian citizen and Thunder Bay, Ont., resident, he's trying to cross the Rafah border in Gaza with his wife to get back to Canada, his friends say. (Submitted by Rami El Mawed)

A Thunder Bay hydrogeologist, Ahmed Abuhussein, who ventured into Gaza to aid his wife’s passage to Canada, finds himself ensnared in the region due to the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict, according to CBC News. The Canadian, an employee of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, and his spouse are among the many Canadians currently trapped in the volatile zone.

Abuhussein, who took on the only hydrogeologist role in his district following his PhD from Western University, received his Canadian citizenship last year. His visit to Gaza was prompted by the news of his wife securing a visitor visa to Canada, a journey he intended to facilitate personally given the notorious difficulty of crossing from Gaza into Egypt.

This image from Wednesday shows people hoping to enter Egypt from Gaza at the Rafah border crossing. Global Affairs Canada says Canadians can start leaving Gaza for Egypt early on Tuesday. (Fatima Shbair/The Associated Press)

However, their plans were upended by a sudden surge in violence. Hamas militants’ attacks on southern Israel on October 7, resulting in numerous casualties including Canadians, were met with robust Israeli military action, leaving the Abuhusseins unable to leave.

Rami El Mawed, a close friend of Abuhussein and a regulated Canadian immigration consultant, relayed to CBC News the dire situation on the ground. “It’s very dire consequences here that he’s dealing with. It’s definitely difficult on him, on everyone,” he said. The ongoing airstrikes have reportedly claimed over 10,022 Palestinian lives, including 4,104 children, as per the Health Ministry in Hamas-controlled Gaza.

A 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.

Communication has been severely impacted in the area, complicating efforts to reach Abuhussein. Last contact was made on Friday, with subsequent attempts hindered by cellular service disruptions, hampering updates from Global Affairs Canada, which is tasked with aiding Canadians’ departure from Gaza.

Despite these efforts, on-the-ground assistance has been lacking. “That’s where I feel the Canadian government hasn’t been doing enough to ensure their safe evacuation,” El Mawed commented. His concerns echo the single operational road remaining that spans a treacherous 40 kilometers from Jabalia refugee camp to the Rafah crossing into Egypt.

Bridget Antze, a colleague at the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, praised Abuhussein’s character and expressed her anxiety over his well-being. “Ahmed is just the kindest, most thoughtful, smart, dedicated person that you can meet,” she recounted. The distress is palpable among those who know him, with the daily uncertainty of his safety taking an emotional toll.

Marcus Powlowski, Liberal MP for Thunder Bay-Rainy River, on Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020, reacts to the Throne Speech. (Leith Dunick, tbnewswatch.com)

Local MPs, Marcus Powlowski and Patty Hajdu, have been approached by Antze and El Mawed, pressing for greater government intervention. Hajdu’s office, recognizing the severity of the crisis, stated they are working to connect Abuhussein with support from Global Affairs.

Meanwhile, the Thunder Bay community has shown solidarity, with over 200 people rallying for a ceasefire and urging governmental action. El Mawed’s appeals to the Canadian government are specific: ensure safe passage for Canadians to the border, improve coordination with NGOs, provide clear instructions on marking civilian vehicles from refugee camps, and facilitate smoother visa processes for family members of Canadian citizens in Gaza.

Calls for Israel to halt its attacks on Gaza have been growing louder since the start of the war, but there are different demands for what to call it. CBC’s Thomas Daigle breaks down the difference between a ceasefire and a humanitarian pause and why what it’s called matters.

Powlowski, while acknowledging the complexity of the situation, admits the limitations of his influence but remains hopeful for a prompt resolution. As for those at home, the anxious wait for good news continues, with friends and family closely monitoring updates from the Jabalia camp.

The Canadian government’s effort to assist more than 500 citizens and permanent residents has been confirmed by Global Affairs Canada, with departures potentially commencing soon, contingent on the volatile circumstances on the ground.