British citizens in Gaza criticize government over repatriation rule

British citizens in Gaza criticize government over repatriation rule
British citizens in Gaza criticize government over repatriation rule

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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - LONDON: Relatives of British citizens recently evacuated from Gaza, as well as those awaiting repatriation, have criticized the government’s repatriation guidelines.

Ahmad Abou-Foul, a National Health Service surgeon, and members of his family crossed from Gaza into Egypt on Nov. 3. But he said they were shocked when UK immigration officers in Cairo advised those with British passports to return to the UK with their children and once there begin the reunification process for their Palestinian spouses.

“They were asking us to split a four-month-old from his mother, and a one-year-old and two-year-old,” he told The Guardian.

“We were shocked. Probably they didn’t have a plan. This is what we felt.”

Abou-Foul paid £16,000 ($20,000) for visas for three adults and two children. The family was given no guidance or information about fee waivers and told to arrange their return at their own expense, he said.

In some repatriation cases, individuals have had their visa fees waived, The Guardian reported.

After weeks of Israeli bombardment that has killed more than 12,000 civilians, the family asked why their evacuation had been treated differently to those escaping from Sudan, Ukraine and Afghanistan. Abou-Foul said the family was told that each situation was different.

The Rafah crossing first opened on Nov. 1 to allow foreign nationals and the seriously injured to leave. In the following days, more than half of the British nationals in Gaza had escaped to Egypt.

According to The Guardian, British nationals and their dependents are provided with transport to Cairo and two nights’ accommodation.

While flights home are not paid for, nationals can apply for loans in exchange for the temporary exchange of their passports.

“It’s not easy to afford the cost of the four tickets,” said a British national in Cairo, who asked to remain anonymous.

“I can’t think how I am going to pay back the loan while my medical center is closed, maybe damaged, and we left everything in Gaza.”

For six weeks, the family moved from northern Gaza to Khan Younis, where tens of thousands of people have been forcibly displaced by the Israeli attacks.

The family extended their stay in Egypt after evacuating from Gaza last week while waiting for a visa to be processed for a family member who does not have a British passport.

“Our client and her British family, who were living in Gaza, have fled a war zone where they have survived desperate conditions and witnessed unspeakable violence,” Tessa Gregory, a human rights team partner with Leigh Day, said.

“In these circumstances, the British government should be doing everything within its power to get the family back to the UK as quickly as possible so they can start to rebuild their lives.

“We hope the Foreign Office will now reconsider its policy and cover the costs of flights for this family.”

A government spokesperson told The Guardian: “The safety of British nationals remains a top priority.

“We are working at pace to support British families who have crossed the border into Egypt, making sure any dependents who need a visa can apply for one and that appropriate checks are carried out in a timely manner.”

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