UK red tape and 'broken promises' mar Gaza family's escape from war zone

Family say harrowing escape from war zone exposes gaps in support system

British-Palestinian family say no support from UK government since leaving Gaza

British-Palestinian family say no support from UK government since leaving Gaza
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A British woman, caught with her family in the war zone of Gaza, has spoken of her frustration at the bureaucracy placed in their path as they fled to safety to rebuild their lives in the UK.

Yosra Al Shanti shared with The National her journey to secure safety for herself and her loved ones and the feelings of frustration that promises by authorities were not kept.

Despite returning to the UK, where she was born and raised, she has been left disappointed by the lack of support she has been given.

“We expected to leave Palestine and go to England straight away,” Ms Al Shanti said, reflecting on her family's ordeal navigating their escape from the conflict in Gaza.

However, this expectation was far from the reality they encountered, after having left Gaza through the Rafah border crossing into Egypt.

“We were evacuated from a war, not because we wanted to, but we had to, and you had the responsibility of taking us out of the war and you just left us in Cairo,” she said in a message to the UK government.

The onset of conflict

Ms Al Shanti was born and raised in Manchester. She decided to travel to Gaza, where her uncles and aunt live, to study.

There she met her husband Ibrahim Taha and got married. They have two children and are expecting a third.

After the events of October 7, and Israel’s military response, they decided it was time to leave and head to the UK.

Her father, Dr Nasser Al Shanti, a senior lecturer at Metropolitan University in Manchester, started making inquiries to help his daughter and her family leave Gaza.

Four weeks after the onset of military action, Ms Al Shanti and her family were on a list to leave Rafah once the border crossing was opened.

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The journey to the UK

The family's journey would lead them to Cairo before they could even hope to reach Britain.

But first they faced significant challenges in leaving Gaza.

The mother and children are all British citizens but Ms Al Shanti's husband, Ibrahim, is a Palestinian citizen, which complicated their travel plans.

“The problem was to get him out with me and my daughters,” Ms Al Shanti said.

Her father was told by the UK Foreign Office crisis team that assistance will be given to Ms Al Shanti and her family – including her husband Ibrahim – to help them leave Gaza and come to the UK.

Despite these promises for a visa and evacuation, the process was fraught with delays and misinformation.

In Cairo, their situation grew more complex.

Initially provided accommodation, the family soon found themselves without support.

“They told us, you have two days in the hotel … but after that, you're going to have to find your own accommodation,” Ms Al Shanti recounted.

The Egyptian government granted them only a 72-hour stay.

The family were left with mere hours to apply to extend their stay in Egypt.

They were also required to navigate the standard application process for a family reunion or spouse visa, a procedure that typically spans several months before a decision is reached.

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

Struggles with British government's response

The family said the UK government's response to their situation was a source of great stress, as the lack of urgent action left them in limbo.

They had expected a fast-tracked application process that would expedite their onward journey to the UK.

Ms Al Shanti's father was instrumental in their eventual evacuation, but even his efforts were met with initial resistance and slow responses from the UK Foreign Office.

“Expediting was not an option as it was for those who fled Ukraine,” he said. “They had no option but to wait for the outcome of the visa application.”

He engaged in a vigorous media campaign, reaching out to local MPs, including Sir Graham Brady, and attracting the attention of a legal firm.

Such a concerted effort created a wave of support for and awareness of the family's predicament.

This community and political mobilisation played a crucial role in navigating the complexities of the immigration system.

Within a week of these intensified efforts, Ms Al Shanti's husband was granted a visa while still in Egypt.

Their time in Egypt was marked by a sense of helplessness, as Ms Al Shanti describes: “It was really difficult because we were sat in the hotel where we had no place to go.”

Despite these hardships, the family's determination never wavered.

“We wouldn't wish anyone to go through this,” she said.

Currently living in Timperley, near Manchester, Ms Al Shanti and her husband are actively seeking employment as they try to rebuild their lives.

Since their arrival in the UK, the family say they have experienced an absence of support, which they believe should have been offered to aid their settling into a new environment.

They emphasised the need for assistance, not only in practical terms but also in providing trauma support for themselves and their children, given the harrowing experiences they have endured.

British Foreign Office addresses support and assistance

A representative of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office responded to questions by The National regarding support for those caught in the war in Gaza.

“Over 270 British nationals and their dependants have so far been evacuated from Gaza and our efforts continue relentlessly to assist those still wishing to leave,” the representative said.

We wouldn't wish anyone to go through this
Yosra Al Shanti

“With teams stationed in Cairo and at the Rafah crossing, we are dedicated to providing comprehensive consular support.

“Our focus includes facilitating the visa application process for dependents needing to enter the UK, ensuring all necessary checks are conducted efficiently.”

“While we do not comment on individual cases, our embassy staff and rapid deployment teams are committed to offering medical, consular and administrative support to a significant number of British nationals who have reached Egypt through the Rafah crossing.”

They also highlighted the visa application centres in Egypt and the consideration given to compelling and exceptional circumstances in visa applications.

Updated: December 18, 2023, 11:19 AM