Home Office dealt legal blow after refusing Gazans' requests to join relatives in UK

Challenges brought after department refused to hear applications without biometric data being provided

Palestinians surrounded by destroyed buildings in Khan Younis, Gaza. Some have had applications to join relatives in Britain rejected. EPA
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Two families in Gaza have won a legal case against the UK Home Office after it refused to consider their requests to join relatives in Britain.

The challenges were brought after the department refused to hear the applications without biometric data, such as fingerprints and photographs, being provided.

In the immigration tribunal heard in the Upper Tribunal, issued on April 4, judges Jackson and Gleeson overturned the Home Office’s decisions, saying the refusal to hear the cases “is a disproportionate interference with all of their rights to respect for family life”.

They said Home Office had been “irrational” to refuse to consider one of the applications, by a married couple and their two teenage children to join family members, one of whom is in the UK with leave to remain on a Global Talent Visa, on the basis that one family “did not use the form closest to their circumstances”.

The judges said: “On the facts, the form used was the closest to their circumstances and in any event, given the very urgent circumstances, it would be unreasonable to refuse on that basis.”

The second case was brought by a Palestinian mother of four who wanted to join her brother, a British citizen.

The cases were heard together due to their similarities. Both families had been displaced from their homes due to the Israeli operation in Gaza. They lost relatives and suffered from a lack of access to basic needs, such as food and water.

They had requested their applications be decided before sharing biometric data, since the visa centre in Gaza is closed and the nearest functioning centre is in Cairo.

The judges added: “The applicants are currently displaced persons within Gaza, where there is no current functioning visa application centre [VAC] that they could attend to enrol their biometric information, which is usually required before substantive consideration is given to an application.

“It is common ground that the applicants face significant difficulties in exiting Gaza to attend a VAC in another country, such as that in Cairo, Egypt.”

The judges said parts of the Home Office guidance was in breach of article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), since it requires “evidence that a person faces a personal risk of harm, ‘which is separate to the level of risk faced by the wider population’”.

The judgment stated: "In the context of the situation in Gaza, in which thousands of civilians have been killed and injured in the conflict, alongside the daily risks occasioned by a severe shortage of access to basic necessities such as food, water and medical care; it is not necessary for a person to show that they are specifically targeted to be able to establish that they are at risk due to their personal circumstances.”

The judges ruled the “applications for judicial review are allowed in respect of the common law grounds of rationality and reasonableness and on Article 8 grounds”, meaning the Home Office will now proceed to hear the cases.

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Asylum Aid, which provides advice and representation on behalf of asylum seekers and refugees, called the judgment an “important win”.

“Important win in a legal case brought on behalf of families in Gaza," it said in a statement shared on X. "The Home Office unlawfully denied families from applying for reunion visas due to their inability to give biometrics. This put lives at risk in Gaza, with some having died waiting.”

Gaza Families United, a campaign group calling on the UK government to create a visa scheme to allow Palestinians in he enclave to reunite with relatives in Britain, said it was “relieved for these families who will now have their cases properly heard”.

“The Home Office must ensure that family members of Palestinians in the UK who are eligible for reunification under existing routes are actually able to exercise their rights,” it posted on X.

“But this is not enough.

“The UK government must create a Gaza Family Scheme to protect Palestinian lives and Palestinian families' right to unity, like it did for Ukrainian families. This includes waiving/deferring biometric requirements and facilitating safe evacuation from Gaza.”

A petition calling for a special Palestinian Family Visa Scheme in the UK for those in Gaza affected by the war has attracted more than 77,000 signatures to date and will close on April 18. It needs 100,000 signatures to be debated in the UK Parliament.

The government responded to the petition in December, saying there are "no plans to introduce bespoke arrangements for people arriving from the region. Those wishing to come to the UK who currently have no visa can apply under one of the existing visa routes".

A spokeswoman for the Home Office told The National: “We have received the outcome of the judicial review proceedings and are considering the impact. It would be inappropriate to comment further.”

Updated: April 09, 2024, 8:20 PM