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'It’s going to be hard to forget': First Palestinian from Gaza program arrives to the Maritimes

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It has been a week since 21-year old Yousef Asfour escaped Gaza and arrived to the peaceful streets of Halifax. He said he lived through relentless airstrikes, and now has nightmares that keep him up at night.

“Nobody can imagine,” said Yousef through his brother Iyad Asfour, who translated. “The kids, human remains, people under rubble, [the] kids and women, the amputated and injured. There’s a lot of bad stories and sad stories.”

He is one of 12 Palestinians who arrived in Canada under a federal government program providing temporary visas to people from Gaza.

The government previously capped the number of applications at 1,000 but have now raised it to 5,000.

Iyad submitted the application for Yousef and 13 other relatives, including their parents, siblings, and nephews, but only had enough money to bring one person.

“I have spent over $10,000 USD in total, [including] submitting the applications for each person. $5,000 was for Yousef to get to the Egypt border in Rafah and I had to borrow money to do that. I don’t have the money to bring anyone else. He’s the youngest. My parents told me to they’ve seen a lot in their life already but they don’t want Yousef seeing this anymore,” Iyad said.

Iyad said he still receives messages from the rest of his family pleading to save them.

“My 12-year-old nephew messaged me today saying that if we don’t save them from here they all are going to die,” he said.

He said there needs to be more support from the government, especially as the situation in Gaza becomes more dire.

“They left us behind. The government needs to help us because some of us can’t afford to bring people and save them,” he said.

For Yousef, leaving his family behind was extremely difficult. It is all he thinks about.

“I can’t imagine how their life [will be] without me because I used to help my family and their daily living,” said Yousef.

Iyad told CTV News while Yousef if alive, much of what he once knew and loved is gone and it almost led to Yousef ending his own life.

“That’s why I said I can’t leave him there. My brother he witnessed a lot and lost lots of friends,” he said.

Food was sparse and aid was limited. Yousef said he and his family would eat grass or foods left for animals where they could to survive.

In places with nothing, Yousef said he watched as people resorted to eating rodents.

“Sometimes we struggled to eat some food. We never thought we would eat what we ate. It was hard to find clean water,” he said.

Though Yousef has found safety, he continues to struggle with the chaos and calamity of the home he left behind.

“It’s not easy because I spent all my life, all my childhood memories [are there]. It’s going to be hard to forget,” he said. 

For more Nova Scotia news visit our dedicated provincial page.

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