British citizens trapped in Gaza are facing the ‘excruciating’ prospect of leaving without their family members after the Foreign Office left those without UK passports off the safe passage list, a group representing them has said.
But some British citizens have said their dependants without British passports have not been included on the safe passage list.
The Rafah crossing is the only route out of Gaza for foreign nationals and the sole entry point for incoming aid.
It did not reopen today, despite UK hopes that the situation could be resolved to allow more Britons to escape.
People waiting at Rafah Border Gate (File Photo)
People waiting at Rafah Border Gate (File Photo)
The impasse in delicate diplomatic relations between Egypt, Israel and Hamas means UK nationals waiting by the border checkpoint have been stranded for a second day.
The FCDO policy is in ‘stark contrast’ to the decisions made during the evacuation of Ukraine, where any family member of a British citizen would be provided with a visa, the group said.
The policy also differs from those set by other countries, with British families reporting that the US is allowing anybody with an American family to leave, the group claims.
Britons were among those documented on an approved list to pass through the key border post on Saturday but many reported being turned away in an apparent row between Israel and the Palestinians over evacuating injured patients.
One person facing the difficult prospect of leaving family members behind said those with Palestinian heritage were being treated like ‘second-class citizens’.
The person – who did not wish to be identified – said: ‘When we got the call that I and other family members had been added to the list we found out that my dad’s wife is not on there.
‘My dad has had to leave his wife and other family members behind so he can get my young brothers to safety.
‘We know of at least one other family in this situation. It is heartbreaking, nobody should have to make this kind of choice. The world has lost its humanity.
‘It is even more difficult to understand when we know of somebody who lives in the US who has managed to get 19 family members evacuated even though not even one of them has an American passport.
‘We know FCDO have made exemptions in the past for people from Ukraine, Afghanistan, and Sudan, it just feels like those of us with Palestinian heritage are always treated like second-class citizens.’
Louise Harkin, from the group Support Families in Gaza, said: ‘We have been in touch with organisations and lawyers who work to support people who have a right to come to the UK through different visa schemes, they have been quite clear that British Palestinians are being treated very differently to people fleeing the Ukraine conflict.
‘Gaza is currently the least safe place on the planet, almost 10,000 people are confirmed dead, almost half of whom are children, yet the Government now wants to separate British children from their mothers and families. We call upon the Government to allow British citizens to bring their families with them.’
Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden said during a Sunday media round that the UK Government was ‘hopeful that the crossing will reopen again today’ and that additional British citizens would be able to leave Gaza.
But the Foreign Office confirmed that the key border post remained closed to foreign nationals on Sunday, having been shut on Saturday following an apparent row between Israel and the Palestinians over evacuating injured patients.
British nationals have spoken about being turned away from the crossing on Saturday when it was unexpectedly sealed.
Groups assisting people trying to leave through Rafah said they struggled to get hold of contacts on Sunday as Gaza experienced its third total communications blackout since the start of the war on October 7.
A spokeswoman for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) said it was ‘disappointed that the Rafah crossing remains temporarily closed today’.
Destroyed buildings in Gaza City on November 5, 2023
Israeli army flares illuminate the sky over Al Shatea refugee camp during an exchange of fire between the Israeli army and militants of the Ezz Al-Din Al Qassam militia, the military wing of the Hamas movement, in the northern Gaza Strip, on November 5, 2023
Israeli Iron Dome air defense system fires to intercept a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip, in central Israel, on November 5, 2023
In this photo released by the Israeli military on November 5, 2023, shows ground operation inside the Gaza Strip
She said the department was ‘using all diplomatic channels to press for its reopening in co-ordination with our international partners’.
‘It is vital that the safe passage of people, including all foreign nationals, and humanitarian aid can continue,’ she said.
Insiders have suggested that the issues which caused the gate to close are not insurmountable. It is not clear what caused the three-way diplomatic agreement to collapse.
Around 100 UK nationals have used the Rafah crossing to leave the besieged enclave since it opened to foreign nationals last week.
The total number the UK is trying to secure passage for is thought to be in the low hundreds, with as many as 200 British nationals and their dependents in Gaza registered with the authorities to leave.
Even British nationals who are on the list have faced difficulties crossing the border in recent days due to disagreements between Palestinian and Israeli authorities.
Zaynab Wandawi, a British national born in Salford, Greater Manchester, was turned away again at the Rafah border crossing into Egypt on Saturday, her mother Lalah Ali-Faten said.
Ms Wandawi, an English language teacher, and a group of 12 family members – 10 of whom are British nationals – attempted to cross the border into Egypt on Wednesday, but were told their names were not on the list.
The 29-year-old travelled to Gaza at the beginning of October with her husband, who is British Palestinian, and his relatives for a family member’s wedding before the Israel-Hamas war erupted.
Her mother said she believes the Foreign Office is ‘not doing enough’, and added: ‘Just passing the list of names, I’m sorry, that doesn’t cut it as a government.’
A picture taken from Sderot along the border with the Gaza Strip early on November 5, 2023 shows smoke and fire rising over the Palestinian enclave during an Israeli strike
A picture taken from Sderot along the border with the Gaza Strip early on November 5, 2023, shows smoke and fire rising over the Palestinian enclave during an Israeli strike
The Government said the advice remains for all British nationals and dependants to leave Gaza.
In a statement, the FCDO said: ‘This continues to be a complex and challenging situation and we are using all diplomatic channels to press for the crossing to reopen in co-ordination with our international partners.
‘We remain in contact with British nationals in the region to provide them with the latest information.’
People who require a visa will need one in advance of travel to the UK, including dependants of British nationals, such as spouses, partners and children under 18, the FCDO said.
The IDF announced late on Sunday that it had encircled Gaza City and divided the besieged coastal strip into two as Israel rebuffed growing international pressure for a ceasefire.
The fighting in the Israel-Hamas war has continued into a fifth week, with the violence having been ignited by the Palestinian militant group’s bloody raids that killed 1,400 people and saw about 240 people taken hostage.
In retaliation, Israel has pounded the 25-mile strip with air strikes and sent ground troops into the north of Gaza in a bid to crush the territory’s rulers.
The continued incursion and bombing come despite appeals from the likes of the United States and the UK for a suspension of the fighting to get aid to desperate civilians.
Before the communications outage on Sunday, Palestinian health officials said Israeli warplanes struck two refugee camps in central Gaza, killing at least 53 people and wounding dozens.
The Hamas-run health ministry said more than 9,700 Palestinians have been killed in the territory in nearly a month of war, a number likely to rise as Israeli troops advance into dense, urban neighbourhoods.
Labour’s shadow defence secretary John Healey said there was a ‘danger of Israel going too far’ in its retaliation and spoke about the need to better ‘protect innocent lives’.
He said Labour continued to support the UK Government’s position of pushing for a pause in the fighting and was not calling for a ceasefire, despite pressure mounting internally for leader Sir Keir Starmer to do so.
The soaring death toll in Gaza has sparked growing international anger, with tens of thousands taking to UK streets on Saturday to demand an immediate ceasefire.
The Metropolitan Police said a total of 29 people were arrested in London, including for inciting racial hatred, other racially motivated crimes, violence and assaulting a police officer.
Mr Dowden expressed his ‘grave concerns’ that a pro-Palestinian protest on Armistice Day on November 11 could spill over into ‘violence and instability’ while commemorative events are taking place in central London.
On Sunday, pro-Israel demonstrators joined a vigil in Parliament Square to call for the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages taken by Hamas.
Organisers arranged for a display with heart-shaped balloons attached to pairs of shoes to represent those who were taken, along with pictures of the victims.
Fire and smoke rises from buildings following Israeli airstrikes on Gaza City, on November 5, 2023
Smoke and flames rise as a result of Israeli attacks in Gaza City, Gaza on November 05, 2023
Layla Moran, a Liberal Democrat MP who has family in Gaza, addressed a vigil for peace in Oxford.
In a clip shared by Ms Moran on X, she told those gathered: ‘My fear for (my family) is indescribable.
‘And that fear is matched by those who have connections to Israel.
‘Grief, fear – what horrible things to have in common.’
Meanwhile, Humza Yousaf has revealed that his in-laws are ‘safe’ and back in Britain after they were ‘trapped’ in Gaza as Israel pounded the Palestinian enclave.
Elizabeth El-Nakla and her husband Maged – the parents of Mr Yousaf’s wife Nadia – were trapped when Israel laid siege to the territory following the October 7 Hamas terror attack on Israel.
The couple – who are from Dundee – travelled to Gaza to visit family prior to the conflict erupting.
But the SNP leader confirmed they were among an almost 100-strong group permitted to enter Egypt through the Rafah border crossing in southern Gaza.
Humza Yousaf posted a family photo on X and said his in-laws are ‘safe’ and back in Britain after they were ‘trapped’ in Gaza
Elizabeth El-Nakla and her husband Maged – the parents of Mr Yousaf’s wife Nadia – were trapped when Israel laid siege to the territory following the October 7 Hamas terror attack on Israel
He posted on X today to confirm they are ‘safe and back home’.
The First Minister of Scotland wrote: ‘I am pleased to say my in-laws are safe and back home.
‘We are, of course, elated, but my father-in-law said, “My heart is broken in two, and with my mum, son and grandchildren in Gaza.”
‘He then broke down telling me how hard it was saying goodbye to them.
‘All of the family is so pleased to have them back home in Scotland.
‘However, our thoughts remain with those who can’t leave and are trapped in a war zone. We will continue to raise our voices for peace and to stop the killing of innocent men, women and children in Gaza.’
He added: ‘This has been a traumatic few weeks. I can’t begin to tell you the impact it has had on Nadia and our family, particularly my in-laws.
‘I’m sure they will tell their story in time. In the meantime, we ask that their privacy is respected.
‘Thank you for all of your good wishes.’