British citizens trapped in Gaza ‘face leaving without family members’

British citizens trapped in Gaza are facing the “excruciating” prospect of leaving without their family members after the Foreign Office left those without UK passports off the safe passage list, a group representing them has said.

The UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) has begun putting names of British citizens on to the list of those allowed to leave Gaza via the Rafah crossing to Egypt.

But some British citizens have said their dependants without British passports have not been included on the safe passage list.

The Rafah crossing is the only route out of Gaza for foreign nationals and the sole entry point for incoming aid.

The FCDO policy is in “stark contrast” to the decisions made during the evacuation of Ukraine, where any family member of a British citizen would be provided with a visa, the group said.

The policy also differs from those set by other countries, with British families reporting that the US is allowing anybody with an American family to leave, the group claims.

Britons were among those documented on an approved list to pass through the key border post on Saturday but many reported being turned away in an apparent row between Israel and the Palestinians over evacuating injured patients.

One person facing the difficult prospect of leaving family members behind said those with Palestinian heritage were being treated like “second-class citizens”.

The person – who did not wish to be identified – said: “When we got the call that I and other family members had been added to the list we found out that my dad’s wife is not on there.

“My dad has had to leave his wife and other family members behind so he can get my young brothers to safety.

“We know of at least one other family in this situation. It is heartbreaking, nobody should have to make this kind of choice. The world has lost its humanity.

“It is even more difficult to understand when we know of somebody who lives in the US who has managed to get 19 family members evacuated even though not even one of them has an American passport.

“We know FCDO have made exemptions in the past for people from Ukraine, Afghanistan, and Sudan, it just feels like those of us with Palestinian heritage are always treated like second-class citizens.”

Louise Harkin, from the group Support Families in Gaza, said: “We have been in touch with organisations and lawyers who work to support people who have a right to come to the UK through different visa schemes, they have been quite clear that British Palestinians are being treated very differently to people fleeing the Ukraine conflict.

“Gaza is currently the least safe place on the planet, almost 10,000 people are confirmed dead, almost half of whom are children, yet the Government now wants to separate British children from their mothers and families. We call upon the Government to allow British citizens to bring their families with them.”

The fighting between Israel and Hamas has continued into a fifth week, with the violence having been ignited by Hamas’s bloody raids on October 7 that killed 1,400 people and saw about 240 people taken hostage.

The Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry has said more than 9,400 Palestinians have been killed in the enclave in nearly a month of war.

Even British nationals who are on the list have faced difficulties crossing the border in recent days due to disagreements between Palestinian and Israeli authorities.

Israel-Hamas conflict
Zaynab Wandawi (Lalah Ali-Faten/PA)

Zaynab Wandawi, a British national born in Salford, Greater Manchester, was turned away again at the Rafah border crossing into Egypt on Saturday, her mother Lalah Ali-Faten told the PA news agency.

Ms Wandawi, an English language teacher, and a group of 12 family members – 10 of whom are British nationals – attempted to cross the border into Egypt on Wednesday, but were told their names were not on the list.

The 29-year-old travelled to Gaza at the beginning of October with her husband, who is British Palestinian, and his relatives for a family member’s wedding before the Israel-Hamas war erupted.

Her mother said she believes the Foreign Office is “not doing enough”, and added: “Just passing the list of names, I’m sorry, that doesn’t cut it as a government.”

The UK Government is “hopeful” that the Rafah crossing will reopen on Sunday to allow more British nationals to leave Gaza, the Deputy Prime Minister said.

Oliver Dowden said Britain was working to ensure civilians could exit the besieged territory “as rapidly as possible”, with Foreign Office officials looking to “facilitate them in getting to the border and crossing” over to Egypt.

The FCDO has been approached for comment.