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One crisis to the next: British Palestinians fleeing Gaza stuck in Egypt

Nasser Alshanti had hoped to be reunited with his daughter and her family fleeing Gaza by now.

But days after Yosra Alshanti, 25, crossed the Rafah border into Egypt with her two young daughters, aged six and three-and-a-half years, and husband Ibrahim Taha, 33, Friday, their hopes were dashed, one after another.

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“We [went] far with our hope that Yosra could be with us Sunday or Monday morning,” Alshanti told Al Jazeera despondently, then chuckled softly.

The family – all British citizens save for Taha – were to fly to the UK after reaching Egypt’s capital Cairo, with British authorities having assured Alshanti that Taha would be given a special clearance to enter the UK, the Manchester-based university lecturer said.

But once they arrived in Cairo by bus, and after having endured three weeks of Israeli bombardment following Hamas’s attack on Israel, the family was told there was no such clearance for Taha.

“The British government misled us,” Alshanti said, adding that he had cried on the phone with his daughter once he received the news.

Taha was permitted 72 hours to stay in Egypt, which ended Monday, while his return to Gaza, a war zone, is out of the question. The Rafah border remains closed for those seeking to enter the blockaded territory, only open to foreign nationals and critically wounded Palestinians on their way out – and the family has no desire to be split up.

As they remain in limbo in Egypt, Yosra told her father that it would have been better to have stayed in Gaza, where Israeli attacks have killed more than 10,000 people, and left another 25,000 injured, with people running for their lives from aerial bombardment and ground attacks.

“It’s better for us to stay in Cairo, even if on the streets, to protest in front of the British embassy to take us back to Gaza, rather than to come to the UK by myself and leave my husband,” Yosra told Alshanti, he said.

The concerned father has been desperately trying to help from abroad.

“We rescued them from one crisis and put them in another crisis,” he lamented.

Throw them ‘in the street’

British embassy staff in Cairo told the family to apply for Taha’s visa to the UK via normal visa procedures, Alshanti said.

While the British government’s advice for its nationals and their dependents remains that they leave Gaza, people fleeing who do require a visa will require one in advance of travel to the UK, according to the UK Home Office.

“We are pleased that the Rafah crossing has now reopened. We remain in contact with British Nationals in the region to provide them with the latest information,” a UK Home Office spokesperson told Al Jazeera in a statement. “This continues to be a complex and challenging situation and we are using all diplomatic channels to press for British Nationals and humanitarian aid to pass safely through the crossing.”

But when the family received the news about having to apply for a visa, they were disheartened, the information contrary to what British authorities had promised Alshanti, he said.

The ordinary visa process can take several weeks – if it is approved – and requires several pieces of documentation, which Taha does not have on him, Alshanti said.

The family fled with almost no belongings as they left their home in northern Gaza in a hurry as per Israeli evacuation orders, he added.

On Monday, British authorities also told the family they must cover their own stay in Cairo from then on, according to a WhatsApp voice recording Al Jazeera heard that Alshanti said was from a British embassy staffer.

British authorities had put the family up in a hotel for the first three nights but would not be able to cover any “extra” nights, the staffer said in the recording.

But the family fled to Egypt with just $100, having spent most of their money while sheltering from the war, Alshanti said.

“Now they will throw Yosra with the children in the street,” he decried.

After checking out of their hotel on Monday, Yosra and her family spent several hours in a coffee shop while Alshanti scrambled to find accommodation for his family from afar.

He managed to arrange for the family to stay in the flat of a friend from Cairo, where the young family now awaits.

‘Treating us as animals’

On Monday, the family filed a visa application based on a recommendation the UK Home Office made to the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), after receiving no support from the British embassy in Cairo, Alshanti said.

The application, which Al Jazeera saw a copy of, is one which unites parents with their children who are British citizens living in the UK.

While the family has been living in Gaza for the last seven years, and while they did not have all the documentation required for the visa, they are hopeful the application will be approved, said Alshanti.

The lecturer has taken on the fees for the visa, having paid $2,330 for the application itself, according to the copy seen by Al Jazeera, and another roughly $2,230 to expedite the process, he said.

The UK Home Office has told Alshanti they will work to process Taha’s application in 48 hours, he said Tuesday.

But Alshanti is unsure if it all will work out so easily – as since the start of the war, nothing has, he said.

He has watched the events in the Gaza Strip unfold over the last weeks with trepidation, wondering just when his daughter and her family will be able to get out safely.

Alshanti is frustrated by the British government’s treatment of his family, saying it is the right of British citizens to be supported while fleeing war.

“They are treating us as animals, as Israel classified us,” the desperate father said, referring to comments by Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant when announcing a complete siege on Gaza in early October. “They are not treating us as human.”

Source: Al Jazeera


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