Family from Gaza hails 'magnificent people' of Windsor after escaping war

It took the Ismail family 47 days to leave their home in Gaza.

But on Wednesday, about 50 people were at Windsor's train station to welcome Ahmad Ismail, 41, Eman Alhabbash, 38, and their two children — Janna,14, and five-year-old Abdullah — to Canada.

Kiran Javed got to know the Ismails during the 2014 war in Gaza and had kept in touch with the family, telling CBC News she was determined to help them get to safety.

The family was accepted as refugees under a temporary immigration program announced by the federal government for those fleeing Gaza to Canada.

"There's just no reason for any human wanting to stay in that chaos. Nobody wants to see their children dying, loved ones dying," Javed told CBC Windsor.

Abdullah Ismail, the family's youngest child.
Abdullah Ismail, the family's youngest child. (Dalson Chen/CBC)

"I wish I could help more families but I cannot. I can only do so much, and this family would be a great contribution in the Canadian society."

She noted that the father is working on his PhD while the mother already has a masters degree.

Humanitarian conditions in Gaza have reached a crisis level since Oct. 7, 2023.

That's when Hamas-led militants launched an attack on Israel that killed some 1,200, by Israeli counts, and taking about another 250 hostage. Since then, Israel's full-scale invasion of Gaza has killed over 36,000, according to Gaza health officials, and has left much of the population facing catastrophic famine.

The conflict has prompted thousands of people to flee, and thousands more are still trying.

'We had no choice but to leave'

As for Ahmad, he said he was surprised at the number of people who turned out to welcome his family "to this grateful city" and make them feel at home.

"It was actually Mission Impossible, because it has many difficulties. The first thing is to get out from Gaza Strip itself. You already lost everything. You lost your car. You lost your job. You lost your house. Everything is destroyed. But you have to do this," he said.

"This magnificent people, this magnificent crowds are actually giving us the power to just feel like we are fine. We are not anymore alone."

"And then Canada came, Windsor came, and people who came to us now are actually making us very happy," he added.

"We left our country. We were obliged to leave. We were under savage criminal war against us, so we had no choice but to leave it, and then we felt like where should we go? We have no more place to go."

Ahmad says he was surprised at the number of people who turned out to welcome his family 'to this grateful city' and make them feel at home. (Dalson Chen/CBC)

Javed said the family has lost several family members in the ongoing conflict, including as recently as Tuesday.

"Eman has lost a lot of family members just recently, somebody died in their family day before yesterday," she said.

"And Ahmad has lost his brother-in-law. He was killed when he was filling up the water tank and they found his body all in pieces.

"They never need to ask for any help. But eventually I received a message that 'if something happens to me, please make sure to take care of my children,' and that's when my 12-year-old son came up to me and he said 'why don't you help them and do something? Bring them here to safety,'"

They're such good people and unfortunately they're in a bit of a hot water, so anything I can do to help. - Fahad Hafez

Fahad Hafez — Javed's son — said he wanted to help after seeing families struggling in Gaza.

"I live in, thank God, a nice place with a nice room and I'm not dealing with wars around me," he said.

"Since I'm 12, I can't do much help, but I tell my mom I can give her money from my piggy bank if it helps."

'It breaks my heart what is taking place'

Candas Emcioglu, a Windsor resident who is originally from Istanbul, helped bring the Ismail family to Canada.

"We all want to help them as much as we can. I just feel blessed that I had the opportunity to take a little part in it," Emcioglu said.

"It breaks my heart what is taking place in Palestine. There's no other ways to describe it. It hurts me in my heart and this was one of the little ways that we could do something."

Emcioglu, who said he helped with all the paperwork for the family's departure visas, said he's happy they will get the opportunity to live in Windsor.

"It's one of the best places in Canada, I think they'll like it here. We are here, we want to continue helping them as much as we could," he said.

'A loving community'

Windsor West MP Brian Masse was also there to welcome the family.

"We're here to ... make sure that they know that they have a new life here, and we're hoping that they can contribute right away," Masse said.

"We have a family coming to our community that's in need, has gone through a difficult process of getting here, so that support is ever more needed than before.

"So that's why it's important to show that this family is going to find a loving community regardless of the politics elsewhere."