Family who fled Gaza war stuck in Egypt due to UK visa issue

Husband of British citizen told to apply for spouse visa, leaving family at a standstill

The family fled Gaza when the Rafah crossing opened on November 3, with the assistance of the British embassy in Cairo
Powered by automated translation

Live updates: Follow the latest news on Israel-Gaza

A pregnant British woman and her family are stranded in Egypt after fleeing the conflict in Gaza.

Yosra Al Shanti and her family were evacuated from Gaza with British embassy assistance and taken to Cairo.

Her father, Dr Nasser Al Shanti, a senior lecturer based in Manchester, told The National he had initially sought help from the UK Foreign Office to enable their exit from Gaza on October 9.

“For the first four or five days of the crisis they didn’t respond, they were not interested,” Dr Al Shanti said.

Only as the destruction escalated did the Foreign Office establish a 24/7 crisis team to address the deteriorating situation in Gaza and the evacuation of British citizens.

After persistent efforts, Dr Al Shanti received a call last Thursday informing him that his daughter's family had been listed for evacuation, a process which included her husband, Ibrahim Taha, who is Palestinian.

He was assured the British embassy had organised a convoy at the Rafah crossing on the Egypt side of the Gaza border, providing the necessary transport and support for their departure.

After arriving in Cairo last Friday, the family were escorted to a hotel by embassy officials.

Dr Al Shanti said embassy officials then told them they would be responsible for their own accommodation from Monday, as well as any onward travel.

Without alternative accommodation the family are now stuck in the Egyptian capital, with another bureaucratic hurdle to clear.

"Ibrahim only holds Palestinian nationality so he is unable to travel back to the UK without first applying for a visa," Dr Al Shanti said.

An official response to his application for a spouse visa could take up to three months.

“He doesn’t qualify for the spouse visa as they do not meet some of the conditions due to Yosra living in Gaza,” Dr Al Shanti said.

“They were told that the application can take around three months, and expediting was not an option as it was for those who fled Ukraine.

"They have no option but to wait for the outcome of the visa application."

First group of foreign citizens leave besieged Gaza through Egypt's Rafah crossing

First group of foreign citizens leave besieged Gaza through Egypt's Rafah crossing

Leaving family behind

Some British citizens in Gaza have faced the difficult decision of leaving family members behind due to the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office's (FCDO) policy.

The FCDO has listed British citizens for evacuation via the Rafah crossing into Egypt, but not all dependents who are not British passport holders have been included.

Zaynab Wandawi, a British citizen, and some of her relatives were initially not allowed to leave due to an oversight in the exit list.

Ms Wandawi, 29, travelled to Gaza at the beginning of last month with her British-Palestinian husband and his relatives for a family wedding shortly before the Israel-Hamas war erupted.

When the English language teacher and a group of 12 family members – 10 of whom are British citizens – first attempted to cross the border into Egypt, they were told they were not on the list.

However, on Monday Ms Wandawi was able to cross with her husband, mother-in-law, sister-in-law and five of her brothers-in-law.

Two of her brothers-in-law stayed behind to help another family member leave.

Fleeing Gaza

The Rafah crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt is a critical exit route for Palestinians and foreign citizens seeking refuge from the continuing conflict in the region.

Since Friday, the crossing has allowed the passage of dozens of dual citizens and medical patients into Egypt.

Passage of foreign citizens and dependents, as well as injured Gazans, was halted on Saturday after an Israeli strike on an ambulance in Gaza.

The crossing was closed for two days but evacuations resumed on Monday.

Since then, about 80 dual citizens and 17 medical evacuees had left through Rafah by early evening.

Rafah, the sole exit point from Gaza not under Israeli control, is also the main route for aid entering the area.

Updated: November 07, 2023, 3:42 PM