Britain under fire over failure to secure exit for citizens in Gaza

Foreign Office sending in teams to assist UK citizens fleeing war-torn territory

Citizens with foreign passports wait to travel through the Rafah crossing after the outbreak of the Israel-Gaza war. Getty Images
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Britain's diplomatic efforts to get its citizens out of Gaza and into neighbouring Egypt were floundering on Thursday amid reports that none of them appeared to be on the latest list of foreign passport holders allowed to leave.

Only two British aid workers have appeared on the list to allow them to enter the Gaza Strip through the Rafah crossing so far, in contrast to the 400 US citizens and dozens of Europeans on it.

There are now mounting calls from MPs demanding answers on behalf of their constituents.

Labour frontbencher Jess Phillips said Britons were not getting out quickly enough and believes the government's diplomatic efforts did not appear to be having "much sway".

“There doesn’t seem to be much movement in getting British people out of Gaza,” she told BBC Radio 4’s World At One programme, as she took aim at Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s diplomatic efforts.

“What worries me and what worries my constituent who is sat at home waiting for his 16 family members, one of whom is four months old, is that we’re not seeing any British names put on to the list of those who are crossing.”

Her Labour colleague Afzal Khan said he had found the same and was struggling to receive information on the matter from the Foreign Office.

"This matches what my constituent has told me this morning: he thought there were no British nationals on the list at Rafah border crossing – and no helpful information from the Foreign Office," Mr Khan said.

The UK’s Foreign Office has submitted a list of names to Israeli and Egyptian authorities who are subsequently monitoring those allowed to leave.

Israel is understood to have examined the list of foreign citizens to link to intelligence on any affiliation with Hamas.

Whitehall sources told The National that a full list of names of an estimated 200 British passport holders and their dependents in Gaza had been given to the Israeli and Egyptian authorities.

“Officials continue to press at the most senior levels for all British nationals to be able to cross as soon as is practically possible,” a source said. “There has been a focused and determined diplomatic effort to secure the opening of Rafah crossing for foreign nationals to leave Gaza.”

The Foreign Office is sending regular updates to all registered British citizens in Gaza including guidance on when the Egyptians are expecting them to leave after they have been trapped in the territory for almost four weeks.

A number of British doctors are among those stuck in Gaza.

A British surgeon with 16 family members trapped in the enclave has expressed dismay that no UK citizens appear to be on the latest list of foreign passport holders allowed to leave the strip through the Rafah crossing.

"There was another list just published a few hours ago; the majority are Americans, many South Americans and Europeans but still no British nationals included in that list, which is very surprising,” Birmingham surgeon Dr Ahmad Abou-Foul told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“I hope that they come to the British nationals at some point. But the Foreign Office is not providing us with any assurances that they already discussed [the matter] with the Egyptians, that the Egyptians are aware of our presence and that they will prioritise us any time soon.”

Liverpool transplant surgeon, Dr Abdel Hammad, was turned away on Wednesday despite being on the list.

His son Salim Hammad, a doctor in Oxfordshire, heard on Thursday his father had finally been able to get through to the Palestinian side of the crossing.

Western officials have welcomed the opening but are warning that the process is complicated and has to be done “in a methodical and planned way”.

The Foreign Office has sent a Rapid Deployment Team, working alongside the British Red Cross, to Arish, a city 40km from Rafah, to provide the medical care and administrative support needed.

As soon as British citizens get through lengthy official checks at the border and into Egypt, they are put on transport and taken by bus to a reception centre in Cairo.

Here they are offered further medical assistance, food and telephone or internet access to get in touch with their loved ones.

The Foreign Office has also advised all British citizens in Gaza to register their presence on its travel advice page.

It has been in regular contact with those who have signed up.

The team in Egypt is also helping citizens with onward travel on commercial flights to Britain or elsewhere and providing them with emergency passports if these have been lost or destroyed in the fighting around Gaza.

“We have agreed a list of British nationals that want to leave Gaza with Egyptian and Israeli authorities," the Foreign Office told The National.

"We will be informed in advance when those on the list can use the crossing to ensure we can provide assistance.”

According to the Hamas-run Health Ministry, more than 9,000 Palestinian civilians have been killed in the fighting, after about 1,400 people were killed by the extremists in Israel on October 7.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said Britain was “playing an active role in getting aid into Gaza” to assist those in need.

“We are also diplomatically working with everyone in the region to find ways to move our British nationals out of Gaza and bring them home,” he added.

called the first departures from Gaza a “hugely important first step” and his officials were “ready to assist British nationals as soon as they are able to leave”.

He said it was “vital that lifesaving humanitarian aid can enter Gaza as quickly as possible”.

Officials said the Rafah crossing would be opened for “controlled and time-limited periods” for select foreign passport-holders and injured Palestinians to leave.

It has been reported that up to 30 ambulances carrying injured people have passed through the crossing.

Updated: November 02, 2023, 5:01 PM